Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while using a field as a toilet (India) - and Violence, Gender and WASH
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TOPIC: Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while using a field as a toilet (India) - and Violence, Gender and WASH

Re: Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while they were using a local field as a toilet (India) 04 Jun 2014 13:01 #8867

  • rosegeorge
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Note by moderator: this is Page 3 of the discussion; click on the square page buttons above to access the earlier pages.

I assume that I qualify to be included in the criticisms of "hijacking" and "memes" about the UP murders. I've written for many years about rape, gang-rape and violence against women. I've written for nearly a decade about toilets. I don't see this as a zero-sum issue ie that it must be only about rape or toilets or that one is more important than the other. It must be about both those things because lack of sanitation & violence against women are both emergencies. I don't understand the hostility expressed on here when this is a time for solidarity and action.
Last Edit: 07 Jul 2014 22:14 by muench.
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Re: Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while they were using a local field as a toilet (India) 04 Jun 2014 18:41 #8874

  • KaiMikkel
  • Toilet activist
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I respectfully suggest that anyone interested in truly examining the issues raised by this all too common crime google "rape culture" AND watch the talk that I linked to before attempting to speak to this issue. But for the purposes of responding to several of the comments, lets be brutally honest about one thing: rapists are absolutely NOT a "perverted minority". For one, the vast majority (something like 2/3rds) of rapists/perpetrators of sexual assault are known to their victims.

rainn.org/statistics (these are USA figures)

And second, keeping in mind that rape/sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes on the planet, current statistics (and these have remained stable for quite a while) show that approx. 1 in 3 women have or will experience sexual assault in their lifetime.


So, if we assume that women are half the world's human population then we are talking about roughly 1.2 billion people. This number points to the perpetrators of this massive number of dehumanizing crimes as being anything but a "perverted minority".

Also, the above calculation doesn't include the number of men and boys that are similarly sexually victimized. Right now, at least in the USA, something like, "...1 in 6 males has experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18."


When we add in the global number of male victims of sexual assault I hope that we'll be able to agree that this is a tragedy of pandemic proportions. Not only this, but the fact is that the overwhelming sex of perpetrators is male.

If we care to admit it, globally we all know (whether we know it or not) a perpetrator of a sex crime. In comparison, we don't all know someone who doesn't have access to a toilet. This is not to downplay the dire need for sanitation. Its simply to bring some relativity to the discussion. The takeaway here is that the rape and murder of these girls didn't occur because of their lack of access to a toilet. It occurred because in Indian society (not unlike most other societies on Earth) women and girls are viewed culturally and many times legally as vessels into which men are pretty much allowed to pour their hatred and anger. And to be clear, no society is exempt from some version of this reality.

As educators, I would hope that we'd be far more acknowledging of the situation and far less prone to minimizing or distracting attention from the problem. This issue easily represents the most universally denied and poorly managed problems among our species on Earth.
Founding Member of "Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge"
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Re: Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while they were using a local field as a toilet (India) 05 Jun 2014 08:55 #8879

  • muench
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Dear Rose, Kai and all,

Thanks for your posts! Thanks for your post, Rose, your first one on the forum. (for those who don't know Rose George she is "Author of The Big Necessity, on sanitation & shit, & Ninety Percent of Everything/Deep Sea & Foreign Going, on ships & the sea. TED speaker. Nullip. Runner." (see: twitter.com/rosegeorge3)

There are probably not too many people around on this forum, apart from Rose and Kai, who know both topics that we are discussing here very well, i.e. sanitation and violence against women and girls (abbreviated as #VAWG on Twitter).

Rose, I agree with you that this it not the time to "fight with each other" and to use aggressive terms in our discussion. We should be united as you say, because we all agree that sanitation needs more attention in general. However, I think this conversation is nevertheless super important. I can only speak for myself but I have learnt a lot so far.

The 15-minute TED talk by Jackson Katz that Kai linked to above was a real eye opener for me! I can recommend anyone with the slightlest interest in the topic of violence against women (and boys and men) to watch it.
It's called "Violence against women — it's a men's issue". Here is the link once more:

One thing that struck me from Jackson's TED talk in the conext of the toilet/rape discussion:

Jackson explains:
The story starts with "John beat Mary". This is how the headline should be. But what do we do? We usually say "Mary was beaten by John". This puts John in second place, he is less important now. Then we go even further by saying "Mary is a beaten woman". And John? No longer in the picture. Do keep this in mind when you read articles about women being raped and killed while going to the toilet (whether it's open defecation or shared toilets) - watch carefully how it is worded!

Because this is what really annoyed me about some of the newspaper articles.
See this one for example:

It says that Sulabh will now build toilets for every house in that village.
The article quotes Pathak as saying:
... as the issue of toilet was the main reason behind both the deaths," Pathak said

I would say: "Really? Wasn't it the male killers who were the reason behind both murders?!!"

Shouldn't the headline read: "Several men gang-raped and killed two cousins in Indian village". (on which occasion they grabbed the teenagers is not the main issue here)

The fact that the girls had no toilet at home made them more vulnerable, yes. Having a toilet at home is a great goal to strive for. But even with toilets, if that culture doesn't change, those men would have just found some other occasion to grab the girls (as Kris pointed out above). Another option is e.g. on their way to school (you cannot always be in big groups on your way to school, even though of course the girls would try that approach).

Let me give you another example, this one is from a large German newspaper (DIE WELT) from yesterday:

It is not a bad article, but again, it does not talk about the perpetrators, only what the women should do to protect themselves better!

I quote:
Während das Dorf noch darauf wartet, das die Hilfsorganisation von Pathak Toiletten baut, hat eine örtliche Frauengruppe Ratschläge für die Frauen herausgegeben. Der wichtigste: Geht nur in großen Gruppen nach draußen.

In English:
While the village is still waiting that the NGO of Pathak builds toilets for them, a local women's group has given out advice to the other women. The most important one: Only go outside in large groups [of women].

And what about the advice to work collectively to end male violence against women and girls? To look for real leadership like Jason Katz explains in his TED talk? To raise our sons differently for a better future for everyone? Too difficult, I guess.

I now the media likes to over simplify things. And it's nice that there is more attention to toilets. And family toilets will help in a small way. But each of these articles should not lose sight of the bigger picture here. And that is violence against women. This bigger picture issue should at least be mentioned in each case, even if the focus is then afterwards put on improving the toilet situation.

Lastly, I am wondering about one thing: having no toilets in Indian villages is an age-old tradition (fertilising the fields instead). Therefore, rural Indian girls and women for centuries have gone out at night for open defecation (right?). Have such rapes and molestations and even murders also gone on for centuries then? Have these "hordes of men been looking for easy prey all along" (what kind of image of men am I portraying? But this is what the newspaper articles incinuate - like wild animals against which one is powerless...). Is it just that we now have more media attention to this topic but it was going on all along? Or if not, then what has changed? Have the men become more violent? If yes, why? Are the villages no longer "real villages" with close-knit societal control but have turned more into "cities"? - If that is the case then all the toilets that we might build won't make much of a difference with respect to reducing the number of rapes.

I once read in an article that pornographic videos are more widely available on mobile phones in India now and that has had an impact; also social fabrics are changing and dissolving (although I thought this was more of an issue for the cities); and men are frustrated at the progress that women seem to be making, getting better education, moving to the cities, they are left behind.

Aren't these the main things that the media should be focussing on. The toilets, just like electricity for villages, schooling, transport, nutrition, access to communication and information, are of course also important as part of the package of services.

And Rose is right, it should of course not be either - or, but "both". That's my whole point. In fact, perhaps if we improve on the violence issue (and inequity as the IRC blog pointed out so well (www.ircwash.org/blog/inequity-root-cause...olence-against-women)) then perhaps sanitation will quite easily and naturally fall into place as well (but not vice versa)?

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant
Frankfurt, Germany
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Twitter: @EvMuench
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Last Edit: 05 Jun 2014 09:04 by muench.
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Re: Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while they were using a local field as a toilet (India) 05 Jun 2014 10:23 #8881

  • ggalli
  • Urban Sanitation Trainee @ IRC. Focus on governance and the 'politics of sanitation'.
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Dear all,

Thank you for this discussion. I've just watched that tedx-video and I think that it is great that we are able to have a good discussion on such a sensitive topic in a forum on sanitation. For me this is proof that the paradigm shift advocated in the video is actually going on.
For all of us, who are concerned about the lack of sanitation services AND the occurrence of sexual violence, it is indeed about speaking up amongst our peers and challenging common held beliefs that shift the focus of attention to the victims.

For me, this is indeed a 'both' topic. To make a sidestep to sanitation, a comment I often heard during my time in Mumbai, was that poor people defecate in the open "because they are uneducated". I think it would be wise to shift the focus of attention to ourselves, and ask ourselves what have we, the sanitary engineering and development community, have done wrong that these people choose to defecate in the open before we start blaming others.
All too often we think in simplistic terms of merely providing a technological solution such as a new and improved toilet, without carefully taking into account all other concerned issues. I believe that the time should pass that engineers stick to building stuff, economist to calculating costs, politicians taking decisions etc.
Just as the tedx video argues, if we are concerned about an issue such as men's violence against women, we should speak up within our circles when we hear something we find unacceptable. Likewise, if we are concerned about the lack of sanitary services amongst the poor, we should speak up against peers that treat the poor as ignorant and backward.
Giacomo Galli
Urban Sanitation Trainee | IRC
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Re: Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while they were using a local field as a toilet (India) 05 Jun 2014 17:16 #8884

  • dietvorst
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Part of the animosity in the current discourse is a result of the different roles played by sanitation advocates/fundraisers and sanitation professionals.

The advocates develop simple, powerful messages that help raise the funds to pay the salaries of the professionals.

The professionals save the nuances for communication with their fellow professionals. A good example is the team of professionals that has developed the Violence, Gender & WASH practitioners toolkit. The very first sentence of their toolkit brochure is:

This toolkit has been developed in response to an acknowledgement that although the lack of access to appropriate sanitation, hygiene and water services is not the root cause of violence, it can lead to increased vulnerabilities to violence of varying forms.

The toolkit will be launched on 9 June.

More info at: http://violence-wash.lboro.ac.uk/
Cor Dietvorst
Information Specialist and News Editor
Programme Officer | IRC
+31 70 304 4014 | This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it | www.ircwash.org
Skype cor.dietvorst | Twitter @dietvorst
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Re: Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while they were using a local field as a toilet (India) 05 Jun 2014 22:00 #8887

  • Sowmya
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Dear All,

My apologies for the delay in response and thanks to all of you for the heart-warming, spirited, insightful and informed response and support.

(1) Sexual violence and advocacy for sanitation:

Sexual violence is a complex issue and two perspectives should be considered to find the right solution:
  1. Risks & causal pathways - vulnerable moments: particularly when circumstances force a lady to take an action which she knows is risky (accessing an open field due to lack of toilet for instance)
  2. Interventions - an ecosystem that does not allow a risk to materialize: irrespective of the cause, if a risk materializes, the ecosystem has failed in its objective. Interventions could be varied (teaching men to respect women and their right to not be violated is an example of proactive intervention - and Jackson Katz's TEDtalk that KaiMikkel posted is exceptional) but we need to take an ecosystem perspective for feasible, sustainable results.

Thus, risks & causal pathways are several just as possible interventions are also several. Lack of safe toilet access is one such risk and, for that reason, provision of safe toilet access is one of the interventions empowering the individual (just like pepper spray and self-defence courses - the traffic light example that Alex had posted) vis-a-vis collective / community-based interventions (such as, behavioral change amongst potential perpetrators).

Will / should sexual violence over-shadow other sanitation issues in a campaign? I think it is a valid point that Joe Turner, Elisabeth, Detlef, Dani Barrington, Giacomo Galli, Krischan Makowka and Cor Dietvorst have raised - that sanitation should not get promoted / perceived as the infallible panacea to sexual violence (the 1:1 connection as Elisabeth posted).

I like Kai Mikkel's post and the stats he quotes. The perpetrators are not a minority and the lack of a toilet access is not the only cause of sexual violence. And, the article Elisabeth posted captures this argument in words very well: that girls could have been assaulted on their way to school, in the market or in a moving bus - the question to ask should be why other interventions (and there are several) that could have prevented the incident failed to activate at the right time.

While a percentage of sexual violence is caused due to lack of safe toilet access, looking at events from WATSAN perspective, the terrible incident brings to forefront the several issues and horrid consequences of lack of appropriate sanitation. Sanitation, from a holistic systems perspective, includes the toilet (viz., collection of wastematter), transport, wastewater treatment and conversion of waste matter into useful products. Lacuna at each point results in several massive problems (spanning health, ecological, environmental, water security, economics and other issues). Therefore, as Joe Turner stated, a WATSAN solution to reducing sexual violence needs to consider other aspects also. (For instance, as he suggested, a shared toilet facility might not reduce the possibility of sexual violence compared to open defecation if the access roads are unsafe).

(2) Sexual violence - a holistic view:

I would like to give a brief history on the media attention around the UP gangrape: In December 2012, a young woman was brutally gangraped in the capital city - her "vulnerability" was in traveling at night. She was cruelly assaulted and died of much pain. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Delhi_gang_rape). There was much public and media protest and a judicial committee was appointed and legal changes promulgated. It also increased public discussion of sexual violence and that, I think, contributes to the present attention on the UP gangrape.

However, as Rose George, Elisabeth and Jackson Katz point out, placing the focus of sexual violence on perpetrator behavior instead of the victim or each vulnerable point (lack of safety while accessing a toilet or traveling by a bus) is far better as it will help all things fall naturally into place (sanitation will also find its place as one of the supporting interventions though sanitation interventions should take holistic view from WATSAN perspective - health, ecology, environment, water security, economics, etc).

Despite the angst, I would still say that we need to maintain balance of perspective and not take polarized stands. I have also read articles that state that men are frustrated because women are better educated and they feel left behind, social fabric is changing and similar reasons. Particularly when the issue is emotionally charged, it is very important to maintain balance and celebrate the men who stand by women, taking a silent or public stand.

(3) Sexual violence - a possible solution:

I found this suggestion very interesting in Jackson Katz's talk: create the peer culture climate where men interrupt other men in their peer circle saying something sexist or degrading about women. The "peer culture" is important. Why not create a peer culture where the ones held to be role models are the ones who stand up for women? Hold up chivalry as the male ideal and denigrate the opposite as unacceptable within the peer culture climate.

Frankly, I would have liked people to appreciate the fact that, in Nirbhaya's case (the 2012 gangrape victim), the friend she was traveling with did not run away at the first instance of danger. He had fought for her. The two of them were alone in that bus and he had fought for her. He had been willing to come forward and give testimony. Why not talk about it? Appreciate his enormous courage (and it would have taken quite some of it to have done so given the circumstances). The first thing that struck my mind when I read of her was this: (a) this girl had gone out with a friend who could be trusted - she had good degree of self-care in knowing who can be trusted (something we should help our women learn) and (b) the friend proved to be true friend, he had stood up for her when the incident happened and later even when there was so much media attention.

There are a lot of Indian women who pursue higher studies after marriage, after having kids, women who want to have a serious career and their husbands happily support them. Parents-in-laws support their daughter-in-law and they live as happy families. The society is in transition and while sexual violence cases are better reported now, people are also coming together in new positive ways, forming wonderful, caring relationships.

This approach has several advantages:
(a) Increase our comfort level: it helps us become comfortable with the idea of discussing / working on a sensitive matter. We all have a father, brother, husband, teachers, friends, cousins & relatives, colleagues and so many other people who are always there for us. Would we really feel comfortable or honest taking a less-than-balanced view?
(b) Not risk branding men as "villains": Just as we should not brand women as "airheads", we should also not brand men as "villains". I agree with the views and stats presented in this discussion and I do not think anyone intended to brand men as a class negatively. It is just that, when we write about men only in negative light while discussing violence against women, we risk branding men negatively within that issue - and creating a cognitive disconnect in other domains as well (resulting in proponents of women rights in getting branded as "man-haters").
(c) Learn what works: Even the most comprehensive discussion on perpetrator behavior will not tell us about the real cognitive, moral, emotional, behavioral dynamics of the men who stand up for women - in a "absence of vice is not an indication of virtue" sort of way. In all our discussion on sexual violence, what are we learning about the real men (their character) that we can then apply to our solutions focusing on men at "high risk to perpetrate violence on women"?

Jackson Katz said, "the typical perpetrator is not sick and twisted. He is a normal guy." Which is why it is even more important to understand what differentiates the guy who will become a hero when faced with adversity (even if it is one where he needs to decide whether to be a bystander or stand up for the lady) or a perpetrator? Reminds me of Joseph Campbell's book, "Hero with a thousand faces".

This is not to diminish the horror of sexual violence but simply to remember to view the good side also, appreciate the real heroes and find solutions in the process.

(4) Sanitation - systems perspective and policy action:

From a systems perspective, we certainly need policy action (irrespective of the actual impetus) because this enables a lot of actors ("in policy debate, an actor is an entity that enacts or brings about a policy action") to formally come together and ensure there is decision and resource support flowing right from the top - creating larger and wider impact with one action.

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was accepted in the UN General Assembly unanimously by all countries. I think it is one of the most beautiful moments in human history - that all countries, without exception, came together to proclaim the supremacy of human rights over all other considerations. Despite the lapses, it forms the solid foundation for our certain transition to a rights-based society.

As Leith Greenslade and Jack Sim discussed (please see WTO's post), if all 193 countries passed a resolution to promote sanitation to Top Priority Agenda, it would be a beautiful sequel to what happened in 1948.

What the UN Resolution can achieve is to bring all policy actors (governments, NGOs, corporates, academic and research institutions, others) together to prioritize sanitation, find and support deployment of sustainable solutions - help sanitation get more attention than it gets, as Krishchan Makwoka posted.

Both sexual violence and sanitation are issues that are as important as they are complex. While it is important to address the concern that sexual violence should not be used as the "only" argument for sanitation (sanitation has other dimensions that might get missed out by making a 1:1 connection in the sanitation campaign), a more broadbased policy and powerful action could help solve sanitation-related issues and consequences. As Elisabeth posted, each will require multi-pronged approaches. We will need action at micro, meso and macro level. And, we will have to maintain (and if possible increase) momentum to achieve the ideal of total and sustainable sanitation solution.

I conclude quoting Rose George: "I don't see this as a zero-sum issue ie it must be only about rape or toilets or that one is more important than the other. It must be about both those things because lack of sanitation & violence against women are both emergencies. ... this is a time for solidarity and action".

Thanks and regards,

Sowmya Rajasekaran
Verity SmartLife Solutions
Last Edit: 09 Jun 2014 20:58 by muench.
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Re: Can this forum be used for advocacy? 06 Jun 2014 11:18 #8891

  • SarahMills
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I'm new to the WASH sector (I have previously worked for organisations supporting victims of human trafficking and other forms of violence, and now work as the Gender Officer for iDE, an organisation which works through markets to improve agricultural and WASH outcomes for poor rural people) and totally agree with the comments on this thread that this is a multi-faceted issue that WASH interventions alone cannot address. I have been getting increasingly frustrated by all the reporting of this horrific incident that these girls were raped and killed because they didn't have toilets. This is not why they were raped and killed. It happened because sexual violence is endemic, because of multiple injustices and inequalities that lead women and girls to be vulnerable to attack, because of corrupt and ineffectual justice systems. The woman who was gang raped on a bus in Delhi and consequently died was not raped because she was on a bus.

I agree that having a toilet at home would remove the unnecessary need to wander round (at any time of day) looking for somewhere to defecate. Access to latrines is an important element of dignity, but let us not forget that this is an issue of violence against women. Broader measures need to be taken to facilitate attitudinal and behaviour change to reduce violence. I'm really interested to see the new toolkit on Violence, Gender and WASH, and will be sharing this with colleagues. This has been a really illuminating thread to follow, and for me highlights the importance of the intersection of WASH with many human rights issues.
Last Edit: 06 Jun 2014 13:17 by SarahMills.
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Re: Can this forum be used for advocacy? 08 Jun 2014 21:30 #8900

  • muench
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I e-mailed Leith Greenslade* (it was her e-mail posted right at the beginning of this thread on Page 1 which prompted this discussion), to make her aware of this thread, and she replied to me as follows (she said she would be happy for me to post it on her behalf). She adds another interesting perspective, the comparison or analogy with refugee camps in Africa and issues with safety of women in such camps.



Debate is always good!

I did take a look at the chain and agree Sowmya’s piece is really excellent.

Happy to add a comment.

There is always a risk with issues like this one that the conversation deteriorates into blaming the victim for undertaking ‘risky behavior’ rather than the perpetrators who committed the violence and would probably find another opportunity to attack women if they weren’t able to lay in wait for girls needing to venture out to relieve themselves at night. Conversations with the mass public need to address this and make it clear that there are multiple causes etc etc.

But I think the evidence from Africa shows clearly that when women had an alternative to venturing out of the refugee camps for firewood, rapes and sexual assaults fell. So I think there is an argument to be made that public policies that reduce the risks that a crime will be committed by reducing a victim’s vulnerability to attack are a critical part of the solution. In the refugee camps it was clean cookstoves and also lighting at night, in northern India toilets at home are clearly a critical piece.

The evidence on cookstoves and rape and sexual assault prevention in refugee settings comes from the Women’s Refugee Commission: www.womensrefugeecommission.org/resource...rewood-life-a-death.

The evidence on solar lighting to reduce the risk of sexual attack at night comes from the Danish Refugee Council in Somalia (www.radioergo.org/en/read.php?article_id=1209) and several groups reported that the lack of lighting in Haiti contributed to the high numbers of rapes at night and when lights were installed the number of attacks fell - www.odihpn.org/humanitarian-exchange-mag...-solutions-in-haiti.

I also believe that technologies that empower women and girls to lower their own risk of violent attack are extremely valued by them because it gives them more control over what is too often an uncontrollable environment.

I speak to so many people outside of the global health and development community who don’t really understand the connection between not having a toilet at home and the risk of sexual assault for women and girls - so this story for me was the most powerful example I’ve seen to really drive home the message to the mass public that toilets are not just toilets for hundreds of millions of girls and women - but much, much more.


Leith Greenslade
Co-Chair | Child Health | MDG Health Alliance
Vice Chair | Office of the UN Special Envoy for Financing the Health MDGs


* Who is Leith Greenslade? See here: www.mdghealthenvoy.org/author/leith-greenslade/
Ms Greenslade is an investor in several non-profit organizations, including Tostan, Women for Afghan Women, the Somaly Mom Foundation, Panzi Hospital and the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, where she co-chairs Isha Koach, a giving circle that invests in women social entrepreneurs who serve the world’s most vulnerable women and children including Global Goods Partners, Goods for Good, Innovation: Africa, Project Muso and WE CARE Solar. Ms Greenslade served as Policy Advisor and Speechwriter to the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and Minister for Health, and subsequently as Economic Adviser to the Leader of the Opposition and as Chief of Staff to the Shadow Minister for Social Security and the Status of Women.
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant
Frankfurt, Germany
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Twitter: @EvMuench
Website: www.ostella.de
Member of SuSanA (www.susana.org)
Last Edit: 08 Jun 2014 21:33 by muench.

Re: Can this forum be used for advocacy? 09 Jun 2014 08:25 #8902

  • Alex
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Dear Sowmya, dear Rose, dear all,

I am really grateful especially for your post, Sowmya, because what you describe under point 2 as ecosystems was my main worry.
Just a few points -
1) it is absolutely clear that the lack of toilets does not contribute (or even "cause") rape. Rape is a crime committed by rapists.
2) people that hide in bushes, rape and murder are – and I hope in the view of the majority of people - a perverted minority, they are linked to, but do not represent the main problem which is mainstream sexism and violence against women in our societies.
3) coming back to Sowmya's ecosystem explanation: unfortunately, we live in a cruel world (and Elisabeth's post demonstrates this very well!). That does not mean that we should be ready to accept it - but we have to see what can also be immediately done.

We've worked in Bangladesh with community to enhance girl's freedom, looking at how to decrease the number of school drop-outs, early marriage, increase the safety of their living areas etc. (and we came up with the MoSan idea as a potential support to better safety and independence!) IT IS A LONG WAY TO GO.
It is true: we cannot argue that we can fight rape by providing toilets - but we do can increase security and limit the moments of risk - and we should lobby for this connection.

I’d like to share a story that hopefully helps understanding how I am thinking here:
While I was working in Dhaka, a village leader requested me to donate money to a young widow thus she can buy a door for her house. I asked why and it turned out that she had lost her husband recently, and was since then harassed by a few men from a neighbouring village. She had no proper, lockable door (and no means to buy one) and thus she was in permanent fear to be assaulted at night - in her own house in the village. The villagers around wanted to protect her - but were also worried that they will not hear them coming if they just can enter without noise.
The absence of rule of law, where a few bad guys can do whatever they want and with no real possibility to turn them to the police, just depending on the neighbours' solidarity and protection - that was the inferno of this woman in that moment.

She moved away later and hopefully has found a better, safer life somewhere else.

I still feel desperate and helpless when I think about this story. At this moment, however, the only way to help her was getting a door.
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Re: Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while they were using a local field as a toilet (India) 09 Jun 2014 12:03 #8905

  • rosegeorge
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Dear all, I've found this debate and discussion really fascinating. I think the connections between infrastructure/material goods such as toilets/lights/doors and women's safety are very thought-provoking. It's obviously erroneous and simplistic to say that the lack of a toilet "causes" rape. Rapists cause rape. But there have been some extremely interesting and thoughtful explorations of the links between violence against women and materials, and I've learned a lot from them: thank you.
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Re: Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while they were using a local field as a toilet (India) 09 Jun 2014 16:10 #8907

  • Alex
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Dear Rose,
though there is definitely more studies and reports out there, we did one in Bangladesh for the use of peepoo bags in 2010

Ashley Wheaton summarized the focus groups discussions - here some quotes:
"Moreover, many women find it difficult to access toilets for socio-cultural reasons, and are better served by a solution that gives them the ability to go to the toilet in the privacy of their own home."

"From a gender perspective, the study also wished to see how Toilet Bags could improve the sanitation situation of women who – given the negative social attitudes towards defecation – are known to wait until nightfall to defecate under the cover of darkness. This causes many health-related problems such as dehydration, urinary tract infections and constipation, and exposes women to the threat of physical and sexual violence while
outside at night."

It is complex - and yes: materials and the access to them is linked to vulnerability.

Re: Uttar Pradesh rape and murder of cousins who were grabbed while they were using a local field as a toilet (India) 11 Jun 2014 09:16 #8925

  • muench
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There was an article on Monday in the British newspaper The Guardian which made me happy as it included both topics (violence, toilets) well - it's almost like the journalist read our discussion and wrote accordingly:


Indian government vows zero tolerance over violence against women

Narendra Modi's administration pledges to revamp criminal laws surrounding rape and to build indoor toilets for every household

India's new government has promised "zero tolerance" for violence against women, amid widespread public anger following the recent gang-rape and lynching of two teenage girls.

President Pranab Mukherjee made the pledge in a speech to parliament that laid out the rightwing government's agenda following a landslide election victory for the Bharatiya Janata party, led by Narendra Modi, last month.

Mukherjee also announced a range of other measures to tackle the recent surge of sexual violence against women in India including reforms of the country's slow, corrupt and inefficient criminal justice system.

"The government will have a policy of zero tolerance for violence against women, and will strengthen the criminal justice system for its effective implementation," the president told a joint sitting of parliament.


In Monday's speech, Modi's government also promised to provide toilets in every home – a measure experts say would significantly improve women's safety. Almost half of India's 1.25 billion people currently defecate in the open. For reasons of modesty, women do not use the fields for toilets until it is dark, making them vulnerable to assault.

The victims of the UP attack were assaulted when they went into the fields in the evening to relieve themselves, because their homes, like most in the district, do not have toilets. The two girls were found hanged from the branches of a tree in their village some six to eight hours after they had disappeared. Five men have been arrested, including three neighbours and two local policemen.

Indian government statistics show 244,270 offences against women reported to the police in 2012. But campaigners say that this, a 6% rise on 2011, is only a small fraction of the total of such crimes. "We will watch and wait. There have been so many such statements with good intent, but how do we achieve these things," said Kumari.


And I agree with Rose that this thread has been a fascinating discussion and provided a steep learning curve on a number of isues (for me). Thank you to all of you!

Things that I have learned and that I will remember from this discussion:
  1. Violence against women - it's a men's issue (Jackson Katz TED talk)
  2. The bystander approach (as Sowmya highlighted it) - bystander sounds in my ears "passive" but those people (men) who are around other men and who witness things could play a key role here because they could interfere positively.
  3. Not a zero-sum issue, i.e. we can campaign for both topics at the same time, rather than choose one over the other.
  4. Different roles played by sanitation advocates/fundraisers and sanitation professionals (as Cor pointed out)
  5. "it is great that we are able to have a good discussion on such a sensitive topic in a forum on sanitation. For me this is proof that the paradigm shift advocated in the video is actually going on." (quoting Giacomo from IRC)
  6. Inequity - a shared root cause of low access to sanitation services and violence against women (title of IRC's blog post).

Kind regards,

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Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant
Frankfurt, Germany
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Twitter: @EvMuench
Website: www.ostella.de
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