I have been collecting notes on this topic for a while, but it wasn’t until after the second side-of-the-road “toilet” stop 5 hours into our 8 hour bus ride that I finally put pen to paper. Both times now I have watched as the men scurry off the bus to relieve themselves, while the women sit patiently, deciding to forgo the opportunity for relief given the high cost of lifting their skirts with hardly a rock or tree to hide behind.
At this second stop, I make my way up to the driver to ask when a stop with an actual toilet might be expected. “Only one hour madam,” is the response I receive. Translation: not any time soon. I look around at the other three male employees on the bus. Their complete indifference and inability to sense even the smallest problem with this dichotomy is beginning to get to me. Something about the innate humanness of the situation makes it feel even less humane.
I make my way back to my seat and begin to take note. The places within India that this lack of facilities problem has been the most apparent to me are also, not coincidentally, the places where there still exists a strong male-female divide. And it makes sense. If a woman is meant to stay in the house, there is no need for an infrastructure to allow her to move long distances easily. But how can such a large, dynamic, democratic society truly develop if almost half of its population is living under a virtual house arrest?
In the situation above, why should a woman that is constantly sexualized by men, need to make such a choice for lack of a better option? Shouldn’t that protective nature that keeps women in the house also protect them when they are outside the house? Even today in India, it is a common scenario for a girl to drop out of school once she hits puberty because so many schools lack sanitation facilities. Why should only one gender be asked to make this choice?
Slowly the men trickle back onto the bus and we continue on our way. 59 minutes more until the women on the bus can have the same right that the men have already had twice. Trying to ignore the bumps in the road, I busy myself with this thought:
Which comes first, the women’s restroom or women’s empowerment?
For more on the sanitation problem in India, check out these links and the pictures in the following gallery.