Shaheena Attarwala, is a 28-year-old professional user interface designer and law student living in Bandra, Mumbai, near a slum in India. While growing up, Shaheena had many friends living within the slum and without access to a toilet in the home. To relieve themselves, her peers either used the local public toilet or squatted outside in the open. Both experiences were uncomfortable and challenging. To use public toilets, which were always extremely filthy, members of the community had to pay for use, bring their own water for washing and flushing, and stand in long ques.  Additionally, older women would often tell young girls that they did not need to use public toilets. Resultantly, the girls were forced to go out in the open.

When forced to squat outside to relieve themselves, the young girls felt wandering eyes of men upon them and experienced teasing by male peers. Stories of women and girls falling victim to violence or rape when having to go outside were also not uncommon.

For Shaheena, lacking access to toilets, which are a basic human right, robs people of dignity, privacy, safety, and the ability to reach full potential.

“Food, Clothing and Shelter are our basic needs as humans. If our shelter is not adequate and has no toilets how do we plan to think of greater things in life? How do we plan to achieve the status of a developed nation where nearly 50 percent of our population still defecates in the open?”

Big or Small Sanitation for All!

Now a successful young woman, Shaheena still witnesses girls defecating openly, and is all too familiar with the devastating effects lack of access to toilets particularly have on women and girls. Shaheena recently decided to take action!

“And to undo my bitter experiences I am looking forward to give better experience to the people, especially women.”

Through a campaign initiative (#buildatoilet), Shaheena has raised sufficient funds to build a toilet for a family in the Ajitapur Village, Jalaon District - Uttar Pradesh. The family consists of 5 young girls, 2 boys and a mother and father. They currently use their neighbor’s toilet for relieving themselves during the day, and visit the back bushes of the jungle to defecate openly at night.

Shaheena will begin to build this family a toilet over the coming weeks. It is important to note that currently the connections between sanitation and health are of little concern to the people of this village in Uttar Pradash. Access to a toilet within the home serves primarily to protect women and girls of the family from risks of violence and shame when defecating openly. Shaheena is aware that the protection of health through sanitation is also of grave importance and thus, intends to use bio-toilet technology where possible in future builds.

@Sanitation2015 will be follow progress of Shaheena’s efforts using #buildatoilet.

What are the biggest challenges to improved sanitation?

Shaheena believes the biggest challenge to improving conditions of sanitation is a lack on knowledge. Not only a lack of understanding of how sanitation protects health and dignity, but also an inability of people to think or know beyond surviving day-to-day life. When people struggle to find food, shelter, and clothing, they are unable to think about other important issues, such as what their human rights are, or what living with access to toilets might be like.

In order to address this significant challenge, Shaheena intends to create awareness through use of social media and word of mouth or beneficiaries of #buildatoilet initiatives. If the family in the village of Uttar Pradash expresses the improvements in their lives from having access to a toilet in their home to neighbors, hopefully others in the village will mobilize for change.  

PICTURED ABOVE - Shaheena and Aisha, the mother of the family Shaheena helped build a toilet for in the home.