Women, convenience

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Monday 31 May 2004

Unheard Voices of Women produced by UN Habitat UN convention on sustainable development, New York

Till now I only understood the concept of women being thrice-cursed. After watching this 10 minute film produced by un-Habitat and recently screened at the un Commission on Sustainable Development-12, I dare to admit that there is yet one more curse. The curse of peeing and shitting! But why a curse?

Listen to this. "We have no place to urinate. Public toilets are clogged and they stink. Going to the field means getting abused by men, and sometimes even raped. We prefer using a plastic bag, which we can later throw off. And these are our flying toilets," says a woman inhabitant of Rio de Janeiro's slum in Brazil. Adds another similar voice from Tanzania, "We are the 'proud women warriors', as filling water from a public tap means standing in the queue for hours and fighting." Further, questions a woman from a New Delhi slum, "When we defecate in open, men walk past us, laugh, pass comments and sometimes sit next to us. Where do we go?" Wonders a 10-year old girl from a slum in Tanzania, "I miss my school to fetch water from family. On the way boys tease me. Why do they do so?" The film is replete with such questions.

It leaves behind very strong messages, especially for policy-makers who often leave out needs of women. For them it is only number game. But for these young girls aspiration means "marrying into a house which has a toilet". Whereas delegates from the developing countries more or less associated themselves with these voices, some from the industrialised world shirked it off as "a film full of complaints by women". But to me, this film lends a whole new meaning to water and sanitation. But will it influence policy makers? Well that's a larger question.

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