Sanitation, Stress, and Life Stage: A Systematic Data Collection Study among Women in Odisha, India
Emerging evidence demonstrates how inadequate access to water and sanitation is linked to psychosocial stress, especially among women, forcing them to navigate social and physical barriers during their daily sanitation routines. We examine sanitation-related psychosocial stress (SRPS) across women’s reproductive lives in three distinct geographic sites (urban slums, rural villages, and rural tribal villages) in Odisha, India. We explored daily sanitation practices of adolescent, newly married, pregnant, and established adult women (n = 60) and identified stressors encountered during sanitation. Responding to structured data collection methods, women ranked seven sanitation activities (defecation, urination, menstruation, bathing, post-defecation cleaning, carrying water, and changing clothes) based on stress (high to low) and level of freedom (associated with greatest freedom to having the most restrictions). Women then identified common stressors they encountered when practicing sanitation and sorted stressors in constrained piles based on frequency and severity of each issue. The constellation of factors influencing SRPS varies by life stage and location. Overall, sanitation behaviors that were most restricted (i.e., menstruation) were the most stressful. Women in different sites encountered different stressors, and the level of perceived severity varied based on site and life stage. Understanding the influence of place and life stage on SRPS provides a nuanced understanding of sanitation, and may help identify areas for intervention.