Breaking Barriers

As a development professional with experience in the field of education in India, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of seemingly mundane interventions. One such intervention, often overlooked yet incredibly impactful, revolves around the humble toilet. Yes, you read that right – toilets. Allow me to take you on a journey through the corridors of education in India, where toilets emerged as an unexpected catalyst for change, particularly in the realm of girls’ education. 

Picture this: a young girl, eager to learn and explore the world beyond the confines of her home, faces a daunting barrier each day as she contemplates attending school. It is not the lack of textbooks or the roads that stand in her way, but the absence of a necessity – a functioning toilet. For millions of girls across India, the lack of access to clean and safe sanitation facilities posed a significant deterrent to their education. 

In many rural areas, the dearth of toilets in schools meant that girls had to traverse long distances to relieve themselves, often resorting to open defecation, which not only compromised their dignity but also exposed them to myriad health hazards. Therefore, many parents hesitate to send their daughters to school, prioritizing their safety and well-being over their education. 

Recognizing the intricate link between sanitation and education, various governmental and non-governmental organizations embarked on a mission to revolutionize school infrastructure by prioritizing the construction of toilets. However, it was not merely about erecting brick and mortar structures; it was about dismantling age-old taboos and reshaping societal attitudes towards menstrual hygiene and gender equality.

In my professional journey on this mission, we collaborated with local communities, educators, and policymakers, launching awareness campaigns that sought to destigmatize menstruation and underscore the critical link between sanitation and education. The turning point came with the launch of initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat:Swachh Vidyalaya and the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign, which galvanized support for improved sanitation infrastructure and raised awareness about the importance of girls’ education. Suddenly, toilets became more than just facilities – they became symbols of progress and symbols of hope for a brighter future. 

But the most gratifying aspect of our endeavour was witnessing the tangible impact on the ground – the sight of girls confidently walking into schools, unencumbered by the fear of embarrassment or discomfort, served as a poignant reminder of the transformative power of basic amenities. 

Beyond the realm of education, the ripple effects of improved sanitation transcended into other spheres, catalyzing broader societal shifts towards gender equality and social inclusion. By challenging entrenched norms and fostering dialogue around menstruation and hygiene, we paved the way for a more equitable and empowering future for girls across India. As I reflect on my journey, I am filled with hope for a future where every girl, regardless of background or circumstance, can thrive and succeed. And so, on this International Women’s Day, let us recommit ourselves to the fight for equality. Together, we can break down barriers and inspire inclusion.