World Toilet Day is no joke for 1 in 3 women

The following is a guest blog from Fleur Anderson, Head of Campaigns at Water Aid in support of World Toilet Day 2012.

World Toilet Day is on 19th November and sounds a bit of a joke, but this is half the problem. Sanitation is a word we don’t often use, and toilets are something not talked about enough, but action around globe on World Toilet Day hopes to start to overcome this. It is an incredible fact that 1 in 3 women and girls – that’s 1.25 billion – lack safe and adequate sanitation and of those 526 million don’t have a toilet at all.

Imagine arriving at your workplace and finding there was no toilet and none anywhere nearby. Imagine the state of your neighbourhood if no-one had a toilet. Now imagine having to pick your way through the streets and parks trying to find somewhere to go, which would be especially frightening at night. This is the daily reality for 1 in 3 women worldwide, and a new short film hopes to bring this home – do have a look at www.wateraid.org/1in3.

Photo: Katherine Mulemba, 60, has to rely on neighbours and bars to find a latrine to use. “I have no other option. I feel bad. I feel embarrassed, but what can I do? My landlord tried to have a latrine built but the guy who was employed to do it ran away with the money.”

Lack of sanitation affects men and women, of course, but women are particularly at risk of shame, fear and even violence from having to walk from their homes to find a place to go to the toilet. WaterAid knows this from speaking with many of the women we work with, but it is an aspect of the global sanitation crisis rarely highlighted.

This World Toilet Day WaterAid commissioned a poll of women living across five slums in Lagos, Nigeria. The results show that one in five had first or second hand experience of verbal harassment and intimidation, or had been threatened or physically assaulted in the last year when going to the toilet. Anecdotal evidence from communities suggests that the scale of the problem may be much larger than this.

Other studies from Uganda, Kenya, India and the Solomon Islands show that such experiences of fear, indignity and violence are common place wherever women lack access to safe and adequate sanitation.

Sanitation remains a very neglected area of government attention around the world, and this is why its important to show how crucial toilets are to achieving women’s rights and development. Lack of toilets also affects productivity, livelihoods and health, and government investment in sanitation is proven to tackle extreme poverty and preventable diseases. For every £1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of £4 is returned in increased productivity.

Check out the new film at www.wateraid.org/1in3 and take the pledge, and you can add your voice to thousands of people around the world who are pushing their governments to keep the promises already made but not delivered on, and to ramp up their funding and delivery of sanitation services – especially to the poorest communities. It is also the first WaterAid film I know of to feature china figurines and fluffy pink slippers, so have a look and see what you think!