Fittingly, it was my wife who pointed me to a great little story in the Washington Post about how some women in India are refusing to get married until the would-be groom secures a toilet for the couple's future home. The story seems charming but frivolous until you read that "665 million people in India -- about half the population -- lack access to latrines."
This juxtaposition of the whimsical with the deadly serious runs through the story. There are giggling references to slogans and jingles such as"No loo? No 'I do.'" But the Post's Emily Wax explains that the "lack of sanitation is not only an inconvenience but also contributes to the spread of diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid and malaria."
By far, though, the most interesting detail for me is that more bureaucratic efforts to bring toilets to rural India have often failed. According to the Post, a "2001 project sponsored by the World Bank never took off because many people used the latrines as storage facilities or took them apart to build lean-tos ... But since a 'No Toilet, No Bride' campaign started about two years ago, 1.4 million toilets have been built here in the northern state of Haryana, some with government funds, according to the state's health department."
As for the demographic dynamic that makes all this possible, the Post reports that India's "societal preference for boys here has become an unlikely source of power for Indian women. The abortion of female fetuses in favor of sons -- an illegal but widespread practice -- means there are more eligible bachelors than potential brides, allowing women and their parents to be more selective when arranging a match."
It's a perverse path to leverage for girls and women and it's possible to make too much of a single news story interpreting events in a single country, but the whole thing reminds me of the recent book Half The Sky and of the simple, catchy, compelling message of an Internet video called "The Girl Effect."