Want to the see altar? Build a throne.
We’ve followed sanitation issues in India ever since our brave and fearless founder Dave took a year-long working assignment in New Dehli back in 2007. Six-hundred and twenty-six million men, women, and children in India are used to pooping in an open field or in an open sewer grate, because most of the country’s rural and underprivileged citizens still do not have flush or composting toilets.
Different campaigns have popped up over the years to combat world-wide sanitation problems, including Bill Gate’s Reinventing the Toilet contest, but what is happening in India now is far and away the most innovative approach yet: no toilet, no bride. Yes, you read that correctly. Women are being urged to not only refuse marriage proposals from men with no indoor toilets, but to leave their husbands' homes and move back to Mom and Pop's if they refuse to install them. The “no toilet, no bride” movement is part of India’s Total Sanitation Campaign, which began back in 1999. The main goal of Total Sanitation is to empower all of India’s citizens with toilets or ways to avoid pooping in public by 2020 … and what better way to push this campaign into high gear than to hit those in control of building the toilets, the male population, where it hurts –in their marriage chambers?
”No toilet, no bride” gained headway with the help of television commercials featuring famous Bollywood starts. One such ad was based Anita Narre’s experience. In May of 2011, Narre married and left to live with her new husband in his home. She moved back to her parents’ house after spending two days with her husband, however, because he did not have an indoor toilet. With the help of his village council, he installed a toilet, and Narre returned.
The campaign has taken hold nation-wide. In a mass wedding recently (when hundreds of couples are married) in Madhya Pradesh, grooms requesting brides had to send pictures of themselves standing next to an indoor toilet. No toilet? You guessed it: no bride.
While some men surely will complain, there are good reasons to insist on indoor plumbing for women. The number one reason is that this is going to be the person who births one’s children, and a lack of sanitation in India has contributed to an appalling maternal death rate. In areas like Madhya Pradesh, more than 300 out of every 100,000 women who give birth died, a rate 50 percent higher than the national average of 200 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. To put this rate into perspective, consider that Norway’s maternal death rate for the same time span (2010-2011) was seven maternal deaths out of every 100,000 live births.
Without running water or an indoor toilet, keeping clean is extremely hard for women. Unlike men, we do not have tidy little pee-pee hoses attached to our person. When we go to the bathroom, we need to wipe up, and we don’t want to have to use sticks, leaves, rags, or old clothing to do it. If you have never considered the indignity suffered upon women in India who are forced to squat outside to pee or poop, imagine what it would be like to have a period every month and not be able to clean up a few times a day. Yeast infections are the least of a woman’s worries when she has no access to running water or cleaning supplies. Furthermore, women in rural areas do not want to be seen going to the bathroom. “Holding it” during daylight hours is the status quo, lest a woman subjugate herself to ridicule or worse – sexual assault. One can only wonder why a country with 1.2 billion people would be in this situation. Is it a matter of money? If, so, then why do 75 percent of those 1.2 billion people have a cell phone subscription?
In some rural areas of India, more than 50 percent of those who married were able to construct indoor toilets, for government programs offered to cover close to 90 percent of the cost. With increased support from the government, the “no toilet, no bride” campaign may help the Total Sanitation Campaign reach its 2020 goal. Currently, roughly half of the Indian population still poops outside.