Attending public school in the Western world, it becomes easy to criticize the apparent flaws within my education system without considering the conditions in other parts of the world. For example, as a person guilty of complaining about the condition of my school’s bathroom facilities (as I’m sure many do), I can admit that I often overlook or fail to recognize the importance that access to a sanitary restroom has on my education. Unfortunately, many students in developing nations do not have such amenities readily available to them and suffer academically as a result -- especially girls.
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This issue has recently been in the limelight in India with the release of the upcoming Bollywood movie, Toilet Ek Prem Katha, which focusses on the long-standing culture of public defecation in the country and its effect on women. However, despite initiatives from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, such as building one million toilets throughout the country, the Indian mentality of public defecation has remained untouched and continues to be a major contributor the dropout rates for female students.
As the majority of schools in rural areas lack latrines, students often have to urinate or defecate in public. Although this is not a major inconvenience to boys, it is very difficult for female students to undergo this process because their male counterparts will often follow them, leading to sexual harassment and assault within schools. For this reason, many girls are forced to dropout of school because of the Indian taboo against sexual assault and the negative mentality of victim blaming in order to avoid bringing dishonor to the girl’s family.
This issue becomes especially taxing when girls begin menstruating as many rural schools lack areas for girls to change their sanitary napkins. Also, as feminine sanitary products are not readily available, many girls from poor families are unable to afford this luxury and have to stay home from school during this time of the month to avoid free bleeding. Due to the lack of sufficient bathrooms in schools, girls have to miss out on their education simply because they are girls.
Though India’s overall income has grown over time, allowing them to excel from being considered a poor nation to being considered a middle income nation by the World Health Organization, 70 percent of households do not have access to a toilet and 60 percent of Indians publicly defecate due to this. This is especially common in rural areas, in which clean water is limited so even if toilets are built, they do not have adequate sewage systems to connect to.
Although there are a plethora of issues contributing to the ongoing struggle for girls education in developing nations like India, sanitation plays a major role. Girls should not be obstructed from an education because they do not have access to a toilet. Though the issue of female education cannot be resolved simply by building toilets, it is a step in the right direction.
Zoya Wazir is a seventeen-year-old Muslim-American with a deep rooted passion for social activism and writing. She plans to double major in Journalism and Political Science in order to work toward achieving the change she wishes to see in the American media. In her fleeting free time, she also likes to create art, read celebrity autobiographies, and binge-watch Bollywood movies.