Kathleen O'Reilly interviews a member of a rural Indian family. Comparing interviews with monitoring devices will give a better understanding of toilet use.
O'Reilly's study will look specifically at toilet habits of multi-generational families in Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal, India. The practice of open defecation—the use of an open field or outdoor area—is common in India, but by monitoring families who have toilets and use them habitually O'Reilly hopes to learn more about the internal dynamics of families that have adopted sanitation.
"The overarching goal is to understand families using toilets over multiple generations," O'Reilly said. "Typically, many generations will live together in one household. We want to know why toilets have worked in families that have them in place, who is using them, and why they have been used."
Choosing not to use an indoor toilet happens in many areas of the world, O'Reilly says. Family use may differ, too, between genders, though the adoption of toilet use across generations is unclear.
"What is clear, however, is that when latrines are put in place, not everyone in the household starts using them immediately," O'Reilly said.
Generally, O'Reilly said, a toilet will be acquired for one particular family member. Sometimes that family member will use it and the practice will spread at different rates among the other family members, or sometimes the other family members may adopt toilet usage while the family member the toilet was purchased for does not.
Kathleen O'Reilly at a home in rural India between interviews.The study uses a monitoring device installed in the cabin of each toilet. O'Reilly will compare the records with reports from family members to determine if reported use lines up with actual use. This data, along with other information gathered from the interviews with the families, will help O'Reilly better understand the process of adopting toilet use.
O'Reilly hypothesizes that the rate of adoption will differ according to gender. She says this difference may be because of the stereotypical gender division of labor, and that families successfully using a toilet may have greater consciousness of both girls' and boys' use. Families successfully adopting toilet usage may also have better toilet placement, she said, since availability of a toilet influences its use.
"People successfully adopt toilet usage for many different reasons," O'Reilly says. "It may be for privacy, for status, or for health reasons."
O'Reilly said the knowledge she gains from this study can better inform those involved in the planning and implementation of sanitation projects in rural, traditional communities.
By Katie Cowart
Dec. 15, 2011
Contact: Kathleen O'Reilly, 979.845.6519,
, or Karen Riedel, 979.845.0901,