The role of allies in toilet inclusion: fostering a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ individuals

By Divya Ray July 24, 2023 5:35 PM IST

When it comes to the hierarchy of needs, the need for clean and safe toilets is at the top, along with good nutrition, basic income, housing and health. At the societal level, when we are able to take care of these basic needs, our people aspire to something greater than their existence.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has rightly written that toilets save lives. The World Health Organization estimates that 432,000 people die from diarrheal diseases each year due to poor toilet cleaning, with children under the age of five most at risk. According to the World Bank, poor sanitation costs the world economy $260 billion in lost productivity each year. When we do not provide clean and safe toilets to women in schools, they drop out. On the other hand, every dollar spent on cleaning toilets yields a fourfold return in increased productivity and reduced health costs. The economic benefit is estimated to be 1.5% of global GDP and a return of $4.3 for every dollar invested due to reduction in water and sanitation and health costs for individuals and society.

After Swachh Bharat Mission every Indian has access to toilet. As our sanitation practices improve, so does the health of our communities, even when we define our community at the level of our city. A lower burden of disease means higher productivity in offices, factories and homes, and better attendance at schools. The line of economic progress is directly linked to accessible toilets.

And yet, there is a community among us that has not reaped the benefits of these reforms. Individuals who identify as transgender, intersex or non-binary are not automatically forced to identify as male or female in order to use our gender based toilets. Whether they choose to go to the women’s or men’s restroom, they are always at risk of being shouted back, insulted, isolated, left the premises, verbally assaulted, and in some cases even physical harm.

When transsexual, intersex and non-binary people do not have access to gender neutral toilets and have to use gender based spaces, they are at risk of verbal harassment, physical assault and sexual assault in public restrooms. Toilets are an integral part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which call for ensuring access to water and sanitation, including clean and safe toilets, and reducing inequalities based on gender, disability and any other status.

For the LGBTQ+ community, one of the key places where allies are needed is ensuring equal access to public spaces, especially clean toilets.

How allies have fought and won for LGBTQ+ rights in the past
The struggle for LGBTQ rights in India is largely fought by grassroots movements, and the recent push for marriage equality is just one example. The struggle to remove Article 377 is an epic in itself and this and this tell the story of the power and effectiveness of grassroot level movements in India. It took 17 years of litigation and hearing, but in 2018 a more progressive bench heard the matter again. The court unanimously struck down the law and apologized for the delay in ensuring the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

We want more such efforts for toilet inclusion – we all need a safe, clean and private place to go to the toilet. Right now, our gendered restrooms are neither welcoming nor safe for transsexual, intersex, and non-binary people.

The more we bring this issue into focus, the more acceptance will arise. Because with the successful effort to repeal Article 377, the movement has built support from the grassroots level: through dialogue comes understanding, through understanding comes acceptance and through acceptance comes advocacy. It is important to note that not only the LGBTQ+ community took out a march against Article 377, but also the cisgender comrades.

That’s how long-lasting change happens – when we stand up for each other.

How can you be an effective collaborator?
Advocacy is not just the job of social workers and NGOs; It is a collective responsibility in which all of us have to share. Advocacy comes in all forms – it doesn’t have to be attending a protest march, but it can be, if you choose to do so. It doesn’t even require a very long supporting role. Sometimes, we do the most important things in our small, everyday conversations.

educate yourself Start by doing. Understand the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community, particularly in relation to access to community toilets. Learn about different gender identities and expressions and the different challenges they face. Harpic and News18’s Mission Swachhta and Paani initiative have some good content which you can check out on its website.

Once you feel that you have the right understanding of the matter, So talk to people in your circle, It is easier for people to accept a new idea if it comes to a friend, family member or colleague rather than reading it from an article somewhere. Every conversation you have, even if it fails, counts. You take a step forward in a conversation.

another way to show support engage in advocacy efforts, Join campaigns advocating for gender-inclusive public toilets, sign petitions, participate in meetings and demonstrations. after this, Support NGOs and grassroots organizations, Help these organizations with money and/or time – they always have a lot of projects in front of them, and you never know when your expertise (or just your presence!) might be put to best use.

Work with the Corporate Sector: That’s what CSR programs are made for! Inspire them to contribute to initiatives that focus on equal access to clean toilets for all. Even if you are not successful, you can give them ideas of what they can do in their business. Imagine the cascading consequences of every corporation moving from gender-biased to gender-neutral toilets… and you will be the one to play a part in making it happen. Certainly, if you are a business owner yourself, consider converting your own gender based toilet to a gender neutral toilet.

Get involved with local government: Write a letter, email or visit local representatives to talk about the importance of inclusive public sanitation facilities. Propose policy changes and suggest ways to make existing facilities more accessible – You know your neighborhood best. Try and get support from your friends, meet local celebrities and other people with a large following, ask them to support your request.

Big Corporations Make Big Allies
Corporations can be the driving force of change, being the owners of large scale resources. Swachh Bharat Mission is a great example of this. Government of India joined hands with various organizations in different phases of this program. To name a few, Mahindra Group, Larsen & Toubro, IndusInd Bank, Tata Consultancy Services and Adani Group have built or financed toilets.

Harpic, India’s leading toilet material brand, has worked on a number of initiatives that have been supportive of the Swachh Bharat Mission – for example setting up Harpic World Toilet Colleges. Harpic has taken the lead in designing campaigns and initiatives that focus not only on cleanliness but also on inclusion.

Raising awareness and sensitizing the public and policy makers about the struggles of LGBTQ+ individuals is an important aspect of this advocacy. Initiatives like Mission Swachhta and Paani by Harpic and News18 go way beyond just the concept of cleanliness. It is a movement that recognizes the profound importance of toilets, viewing them not only as functional spaces but as torchbearers of acceptance and protection for the marginalized. This extraordinary mission rests on the firm belief that clean and inclusive toilets are essential to building a society that embraces and strengthens each of us unconditionally. With an unwavering dedication, Harpic and News18 actively engage and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, and spread the message that everyone deserves a clean and accepting space, where their dignity is maintained and their presence is celebrated.

By aligning with Mission Swachhta and Paani, such advocacy groups can raise awareness of the specific challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community as well as mobilize public support for inclusive toilet policies.

embrace our diversity
Anyone who lives in the metro cities of India can testify to our mixed and diverse society. We study, work and play side by side with people who speak different languages, worship different gods, celebrate different festivals and come from all parts of the socio-economic spectrum. Why do we single out gender diversity when we embrace all of this diversity?

That too when India has a legacy of adopting multiple genders. The Hijra community, which includes transsexual, intersex and Hijra persons, has been a part of our royal courts and cultural festivals, our marriages and death rituals. Before colonization, this community was considered mysterious and respected.

How far have we come from our colonial past? We are a fast growing economy which has left behind some of the strongest economies of the world and is claiming to be the 5th largest economy, and we are soon moving towards claiming the 3rd position. Our literacy rate has reached 77.7% in 2022 from a maximum of 18.3% in 1951. We are among the leading adopters of technology in the world, be it mobile access, digital payments or even telemedicine. We are basically moving towards the future with confidence.

In 1947, we gave up the mindset that we were not fit for Swarajya. We worked quickly to break the mindset that we see women as inferior, and “only good for domestic work”. We have a stable, fast-growing and diverse workforce filled with talented women – whether in science, technology, engineering or maths or the arts. We are breaking the shackles of our caste system to such an extent that those of us who grew up in metro cities have no clue about what caste we or our parents belong to.

Isn’t the time to embrace gender inclusion wholeheartedly and discard the last vestiges of the colonial mindset? Let’s do it. Let us build a society where we all have acceptance, respect and dignity. Let’s create a place where we all feel safe and well. Let us now move the conversation from ‘others’ to ‘us’. Let’s be friends.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that our diversity is our biggest strength. Contact us to learn how you can participate in this national change. Here Join

Tags: Mission Paani, Mission Swachhta Aur Paani, News18 Mission Paani