One aspect of the Swachh Bharat initiative is improving access to sanitary toilets—a corollary of this being more toilets in schools, especially for girls. The benefits of ‘more toilets for girls’ are obvious. They could help lower drop-out rates among adolescent girls (most girls dropping out at the middle and high school level cited lack of toilets as a major reason in a recent survey), apart from giving them a sense of security. Thus, the demand for more toilet for girls has, more or less, occupied the public imagination of a school sanitation drive. However, the latest data from the District Information System for Education (DISE) reveals a very different reality on the ground. Only in 4 out of 36 Indian states and Union Territories (UT) is the percentage of schools with toilets for girls lesser than the percentage of schools with toilets for boys. In 27 states and UTs, boys had as many toilets as girls had or lesser.
Similarly, the proportion of dysfunctional toilets is higher for boys in 16 states and UTs while it is higher for girls in 14. In 4 states—Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Telangana, and Assam—nearly a third to over half of the schools don’t have toilets for boys. It is in precisely this scenario that one of the core goals of Swachh Bharat will likely be stumped , given the absence of toilets for boys will not impact their enrolment or dropout numbers, but only worsen the already bad sanitation situation. Therefore, while it is ideal that there be more toilets for girls, the need is to improve sanitary toilet numbers and access to these for students of both the sexes.