Making safe toilets a reality for low income communities: a story of Borsha
“For me, sneaking my pad into the toilet when there were men and boys queued outside was humiliating.”
15-year-old Borsha from Tekerbari, Mirpur, Dhaka shares with us her period struggles and how not having a proper toilet to use at home raised her period insecurities.
Borsha had her first period when in class 4. As like most girls who experience their menstruation for the first time without any knowledge of it, Borsha was terrified when she first saw her menstrual blood. However, having a caring mother helped ease her first-time experience as she quickly understood that periods were nothing to be ashamed of, but rather a natural process of the body. Due to the expensive price of sanitary pads, Borsha was accustomed to using cloth from the first day. However, discomfort and irritation made her period challenging, especially due to the absence of a proper toilet to change it in every 2-3 hours.
When in school, Borsha would hold on to relieve herself till she reached home due to the lack of facilities and unhygienic condition the school toilets were in. While this was bearable on normal days, it was equally unbearable when she was on her periods. Her period struggle, however, was not only limited to her school. Borsha lived with her family of 5 in an urban slum where houses didn’t have separate toilets. She and her family had to use a small, dark, run-down and extremely dirty community toilet which was shared by 25 more people from the same neighbourhood. For her, physical pain during period or the use of cloth was not what disturbed her the most – rather, using the same toilet as other boys and men and having to sneak her pad into the toilet with a constant fear of them seeing it and realising she is on her period was humiliating. Additionally, repetitively checking whether her clothes were stained while standing in the toilet queue or while passing by her male neighbours was equally embarrassing.
But does Borsha’s period insecurities continue to exist?
Borsha’s smile broadens as she says, “no”. Two years now from her first period experience, her community has new toilets built by Wateraid and Lindex that not only have separate chambers for men and women, but also carry all basic facilities that a toilet should have. The chambers are bigger, smell good, have lights and running water, and is kept clean by community people who volunteer to regularly clean it.
Now, on regular and period days, Borsha and many other girls and women like her don’t need to feel shy and sneak into the toilet. More toilet chambers mean no more queuing, and privacy for men and women alike.
Is Borsha happy now? She giggles nodding yes, running away with her friends to play as the sun starts to set.