Long Read
19 November 2019

World Toilet Day 2019: How ‘bout them women?

1 in 3 people worldwide do not have access to a basic toilet. During this year’s World Toilet Day (November 19th), Simavi asks attention for this worldwide lack of basic sanitation services. Together with our partner The Good Roll we want to get people thinking about what it means to have no toilet available in your home, at school, at a health facility or in your workplace. 

Shocking as the numbers may be, the effects are even worse for women and girls.  Women and girls use the toilet more often and for longer periods of time because they menstruate, sit to urinate and because in many cultures women tend to wear more binding and cumbersome clothes, whereas men’s clothing provides significantly speedier access. But not only are women more in need of a toilet: they also need a differently designed toilet. They need larger spaces (in particular to manage their menstruation); privacy and safety measures to use shared toilets.  

Not having access to toilets that address these specific needs means there is a higher chance of girls missing school during menstruation and leads to increased challenges for women in the workplace. For pregnant women, it creates higher risks of hookworm infections. Combined with the simple fact that the lack of proper facilities leads to long queues for women and girls, the result is that social and economic chances in life are being compromised. And even worse: if women and girls do not have access to a toilet in or near their house, they are more vulnerable to (sexual) violence since they are forced to relieve themselves outside, including at night.  

At Simavi, we work towards a healthy life for all. In our programmes, we use a rights-based and women-centred approach: everyone has a right to health and women and girls have specific needs and wishes. By placing women and girls at the centre of our programmes, we strive to respond to their needs. Since we believe that women themselves are the experts on their own lives and bodies, they are in the lead and their voice needs to be heard. In our view, this leads to true gender equity.   

This goes beyond installing a washing place next to a toilet. Women and girls need to have access to information and should be able to use the sanitation facilities and menstrual products that suit their needs. Restrictive social and cultural norms and beliefs need to be addressed. In many of our programmes, we train school teachers, sanitation entrepreneurs and community and healthcare workers on the specific needs of women and girls; ensuring comprehensive information is provided and female friendly facilities are being built and maintained locally. We also work with parents, policy makers, service providers and community leaders to create a more supportive environment for girls and women.  

In short: yes, the numbers on worldwide sanitation are shocking. But the results are even more problematic for women. It is time to take a rights-based and women-centred approach to WASH seriously, to ensure social and economic opportunities for women and girls are increased, and the barriers to a healthy life are taken down.  

Check out our website for more information about our approach.

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