When I go out reporting, I usually have to pee before a big interview—sometimes out of nervousness and at other times because I have a large cup of industrial strength coffee each morning, which acts as a diuretic. One particularly memorable urination took place on the 10th floor of city government headquarters Civic Centre (the transport department). As the only bathroom for women was on the ground floor, I had to make a decision in life: either embarrass myself with a wet shalwar or go to the men’s. I marched in, much to the fluster of some babus, proceeded to the stall with the most sturdy looking door and went about relieving my infinitely grateful bladder.
Pakistani women do not have enough toilets. Anywhere.
We need to change this. And I have a friend who is trying to do this, little by little, in what is probably the most successful financial model for community work I have encountered. That friend is Naween Mangi, the journalist who taught me my craft and gave me my first newsroom job as a subeditor at Daily Times where she was the Business Editor. She is one of Pakistan’s foremost investigative journalists, and after a long career, a few years ago she left her job as Bloomberg Pakistan’s bureau chief, to go work in her village. A month or so ago, when I found out she was building toilets, I pitched in to the best of my capacity because I know what it is like and sanitation, sewage and water systems are very close to my heart.
As Naween can best describe how she has accomplished the success of making an 8000-rupee toilet possible, I asked her permission to share what she had written. Please note, I do not ever endorse NGO work unless I have seen firsthand if they are doing work of integrity. This is the only, rare exception, that I am making in the space of an Opinion column here, because Sindh’s local and district governments and private sector neglect girls and women in rural Sindh when it comes to toilet building. This is her note below:
I try often to imagine what life without a toilet would be like. The anxiety of waking up in the morning without a toilet close by. The stress of getting through the day without a toilet at home or at work. The worry of getting up in the middle of the night without a facility to use. I try to imagine how hard that would be. Planning around this would take up a good chunk of my day and energy. But of course, I quickly forget the horrors I’ve imagined. Like most of us, I take it completely and wholly for granted that when I need a toilet, there will be one near by.
That isn’t the case for a majority of my fellow Pakistani women. In dozens of villages I have visited in district Larkana, I have seen women resorting to one of two options. In one option, they band together in groups and head out into the fields before the sun comes up and then again after sunset. They go together for safety and to ensure privacy from men who may be working nearby. They also have to look out for each other by watching for snakes, rats, scorpions and poisonous insects. These groups usually include teenage girls, young mothers and older women from the family.
If women aren’t going out in groups, they’re using makeshift toilets at home. These aren’t really toilets. A muddy area of their neighborhood is designated as a toilet space by putting up a low walls of hay stacks in a semi-circular shape. A woman will go into the semi-circle with one or two standing outside to ensure privacy. The user will then have to scoop up the waste and dispose of it. They will usually also get their small children to use the area so that the disposal can be done all at once. That may mean walking to the nearest irrigation canal or open sewerage pond or drain. The flies, mosquitoes and stench are testament to the poor sanitary conditions and health risks these women and children are exposed to everyday.
The Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust, which I run as an integrated rural development project in District Larkana, started building toilets in 2015 when a woman in one of the villages told me building toilets is a most urgent task that no one is helping with. We’ve since built about 600 toilets in the homes of farmers, labourers, hawkers, brick kiln workers and rice mill loaders. We provide bricks, sand and cement to construct a structure that’s 16 square feet in area and six feet high. We also buy the ceramic toilet bowl and pipe. These materials and the associated costs come to about 8000 rupees per toilet. The beneficiary family pays 1500 rupees to the technician who builds the toilet and also puts in the labour. Where men show little interest, women do the constructing themselves; passing the mason bricks, mixing cement and sand and helping with other tasks. Women’s eyes shine with pride when construction is done. More often than not, they describe their toilet as a prized asset and tell me owning a toilet makes them feel suddenly rich.
Eight thousand rupees isn’t a lot of money. Once I started noticing how easily I and people around me spend 8000 rupees, the toilet became my currency of choice. I remember telling my doctor he made me spend five toilets worth on blood tests. I told my driver we put two toilets worth of petrol into the car this month. I told a friend that her shawl was indeed beautiful but half a toilet was a better investment. And I told a young relative that if six of us stayed home and ate a simple dinner instead of trying out a new restaurant, we could build a family a toilet.
Toilets make life so much easier. Women don’t need to waste so much time planning toilet visits. Health risks are immediately reduced. Dignity is restored. It’s easy to turn away from a discussion about human waste. But a toilet is a fundamental human right. And too many Pakistanis are doing without one.
Please help me build toilets. I have my heart set on 500 toilets in 2020. Our generous donors have pledged for 165 toilets and I hope we can raise enough for 335 more. Rs8,000 per toilet.
Information on how to donate is at: Http://www.alihasanmangitrust.org/donate/