By Shruti Sunderraman
That women are sexually harassed or molested or raped because they are forced to defecate in public, due to lack of proper sanitation and toilets, is sadly common knowledge. Apparently, even the presence of toilets does not exempt women from getting harassed in urban areas in India, according to a report.
The report, ‘Perceptions of gender-based violence around public toilets in Mumbai slums’, based on a study conducted by University College London, says that inadequate infrastructure, poor or no lighting, lack of basic sanitation and poor design among other factors contribute to violence against women. the study was conducted in two massive slum areas in Mumbai across 142 households. For example, lack of proper doors in public toilets could lead to women being harassed, as is the case with women defecating in the open. Many abandoned and decrepit public toilets become breeding grounds for possibility of molestation and anti-social elements in the area.
But the problem is in gathering tangible evidence of gendered violence happening around public toilets as the evidence of molestation or harassment in these cases is often anecdotal. The study says, “The exact extent of crimes against women in these circumstances is unknown because unsurprisingly women in slums rarely report crimes to the police, either due to fear or lack of access.”
It also draws a parallel between greater police presence around public toilets with reduced fear of crime against women. Police presence around toilets is generally low in cities. But importantly, lack of water supply, electricity in public toilets makes women travel to toilets further away from their localities, raising concerns for their safety. It’s not just infuriating, but also heartbreaking that women have to fear molestation even while doing something as natural as defecating. The least that can be done to alleviate safety concerns is to provide heightened police protection and toilets that are not in various stages of disarray.
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