Mandana is showering outdoors and among the debris, hidden from the view of her neighbors by a couple of sheets hung from a wooden pole. Lakshmi defecates in a clearing a kilometer from her house. When men pass by, she gets up, and when they leave, she ducks again. At 65 years old, this work weighs on her. Malamma, 38, does not complain about doing all the housework, but it is unbearable because she ends up so tired that she even gets a fever. Moreover, Kesari amma can no longer work because of the pain she feels in her legs and arms, the result of excess fluoride in the water she consumes.
The State of Andhra Pradesh in India, is home to almost 85 million inhabitants of the country’s 1.2 billion. In this inhospitable and wasteland where drought is a chronic disease, 9.2% of its inhabitants live below the poverty line and half of the population does not have access to latrines. Some of the highest percentages are recorded of the country in diseases of water transmission, such as diarrhea. These four women live in different villages and do not know each other, but they share sufferings: they are poor, and of low castes, they work in the fields and the home, and they do not know what clean water, toilets or personal hygiene is.
Women in India make up 48% of the population. Most of the Indian woman is responsible for all domestic chores and taking care of her family. Her life is hard, especially in rural areas. She works about 16 hours a day at home and in the field and even after all this, if a member of the family is ill, they must attend to it.
Added to this excessive workload is a deterioration in health due to diseases caused by poor hygiene and by using contaminated water. Women, in particular, do not take care of themselves, they do not clean themselves, they do not eat well. Moreover, of all those ailments, up to 60% could be avoided if they had access to safe water. To clean themselves after defecating they only use a jug of water and do not wash their hands. With those same hands they prepare food and end up getting sick.
Where there are no toilets, there is no health
One of the most trumpeted data about India around the world is the absence of toilets: some 597 million people defecate in the open air, a number that equals half of all people in the world in this situation. Moreover, when it comes to women they feel uncomfortable as to being seen. They endure the desire to use the toilet during the day and use it at night. However, it turns out to be dangerous for them at night because they run the risk of being attacked sexually, taking advantage of the fact that there is no light and that they are alone in isolated places.
Water that carries diseases
Access to clean water is another major problem in Andhra Pradesh, where it almost never rains and drought is a constant in the lives of its citizens. The most common waterborne diseases are typhus, vomiting, stomach worms and diarrhea. Its impression coincides with the data offered by the Ministry of Health: Andhra Pradesh is the second State of India with the highest incidence of diarrheal diseases; in 2013 there were 1,721,050 cases, more than half in women, and 100 deaths. Moreover, during the monsoon, there are more cases because water drags all the excrement, to areas where there is water for consumption, contaminating them.
Hattie Bengal is a village without toilets where no drinking water is available on a daily basis. The neighbors have a 1,000-litre tank that works; thanks to an electric pump located in another town. They only have access to water every four days for four hours, the time that the 80 families of this community have to collect as many cans as they can.
In addition to that, when there is no electricity,( something usual especially in monsoon season) the pump does not work either. So, they go to another village four kilometers away to drink.
The water that reaches many communities of Andhra Pradesh contains excess fluoride, and its consumption causes long-term problems such as stiffness and pain in the joints, loss of muscle mass, neurological issues and the well-known deterioration of tooth enamel. Practices as simple as boiling water to avoid drinking contaminated water or washing hands after going to the bathroom, wasteland etc – are not carried out.
Therefore, all the women out there should be encouraged to take care of themselves and their hygiene. They should me made aware practices that can assist them to maintain their personal hygiene. After all, health and hygiene is something that is of utmost importance and should be taken are of.