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Household sanitation access and risk for non-marital sexual violence among a nationally representative sample of women in India, 2015-16.



Lack of household sanitation, specifically toilet facilities, can adversely affect the safety of women and girls by requiring them to leave their households to defecate alone and at night, leaving them more vulnerable to non-marital sexual violence. This study analyzes the association between household sanitation access and past year victimization from non-marital sexual violence (NMSV) in India.


We analyzed 74,698 women age 15-49 from whom information on NMSV was collected in India's National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4). We used multivariable logistic regression to test the relationship between women's household sanitation access and recent NMSV experience, controlling for socioeconomics (SES;e.g., age, marital status, caste, wealth, employment), for the total sample and stratified by rural/urban, given lower access to sanitation and lower NMSV in rural contexts.


We found that 46.2% of households in our sample lacked their own private sanitation facilities (58.0% rural; 24.5% urban) and were forced to openly defecate (37.3%) or walk to a shared sanitation facility (8.9%), and 0.45% of women report NMSV in the last 12 months (0.33% rural; 0.68% urban). Our multivariable model indicated no significant association between having private household sanitation facilities and NMSV for the total sample, but stratified analyses indicate a significant association for rural but not urban women. In rural India, those who lack private household sanitation, compared to those with a household toilet, have significantly greater odds of NMSV (AOR = 2.45; p < 0.05). These findings persist after accounting for demographics including age and marital status, socio-economic factors related to marginalization (e.g., caste, wealth), women's employment, and the overall climate of the state.


Findings from this study support prior research suggesting that poor access to sanitation is associated with women's risk for NMSV in rural India. This may be via increased exposure, and/or as a marker for greater vulnerability to NMSV beyond what is explained by other SES indicators. Solutions can include increased access to private household sanitation and more targeted NMSV prevention in rural India.

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