A 24-year-old woman in Ajmer, India just won a divorce from her husband for a seemingly unconventional reason: He refused to build her a toilet. But despite its uncommon premise, this divorce is actually huge for women’s rights in the country.
According to The Times of India, the woman’s husband found the demand for a toilet “unusual,” because most women relieved themselves outside at night. The family court hearing this woman’s case found the lack of a toilet cruel because it meant “outraging the modesty of a woman.” The court added, “We spend money on buying tobacco, liquor, and mobile phones, but are unwilling to construct toilets to protect the dignity of our family."
Across the country, access to indoor toilets is extremely limited. According to a 2015 study by the nonprofit WaterAid, nearly 70% of Indian households don’t have indoor toilets, and 60% of the county’s population still defecates in the open. It’s common practice for men to relieve themselves on the side of the street, in open fields, and on train tracks.
Because of the modesty in Indian culture, women don't do the same. If women in India don’t have access to a toilet, they're often forced to wait until nightfall to go outside to relieve themselves. Not only is that humiliating, but it also makes women more vulnerable to attacks and assaults. Plus, open defecation leads to more widespread health concerns, such as diarrhea.
There’s been a large effort to get more toilets in homes across the country. A campaign focused on getting bathrooms for women before marriage called “No Toilet, No Bride” helped build more than 1 million bathrooms in the northern part of the country from 2007 to 2009, according to The Washington Post. The program advocated for women to demand a toilet before accepting a marriage proposal.
The Indian government has tried to expand toilet access, but progress is slow. In 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Clean India Campaign. The program promised to revolutionize India’s waste problems by 2019. Though millions of toilets have been built under the Clean India Campaign, a lack of education and adherence to cultural norms leaves a lot of the bathrooms largely unused, according to PRI.
This bathroom-driven divorce is another step in the right direction for women’s health in India, especially since divorce is pretty rare in India. According to The Hindustan Times, the divorce rate is only 13 per 1,000 marriages.
This one sends a powerful message: Women’s health and safety is an undeniable right.