World Toilet Day 2014 – Equality and Dignity
Every year on Nov. 19, the international community celebrates World Toilet Day to create awareness about the lack of access to basic sanitation currently affecting 2.5 billion people.
This year’s theme is “Equality and Dignity.” Different stakeholders will convene at the United Nations headquarters in New York to explore, among other issues, the linkages between gender-based violence and sanitation, highlighting the incidence of increased vulnerability to all forms of violence for women and girls when there is a short supply of safe, private and easily accessible sanitation.
U.N. Women leads the global effort to end all forms of violence against women. This month, the organization places emphasis on ending violence against women by featuring facts, stories, audiovisual and social media content, and calling for action against this grave human rights violation, as part of a yearlong campaign leading up to the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action called “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity — Picture It!”
WHAT IS WORLD TOILET DAY?
World Toilet Day is a day to take action. It is a day to raise awareness about all people who do not have access to a toilet – despite the human right to water and sanitation.
It is a day to do something about it.
Of the world’s seven billion people, 2.5 billion people do not have improved sanitation. 1 billion people still defecate in the open. Women and girls risk rape and abuse because they have no toilet that offers privacy.
We cannot accept this situation. Sanitation is a global development priority. This is why the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 designated 19 November as World Toilet Day. This day had previously been marked by international and civil society organizations all over the world but was was not formally recognized as an official UN day until 2013. World Toilet Day is coordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with Governments and relevant stakeholders.
As we accelerate efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and draft a solid post-2015 development agenda, we have a historic opportunity to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. Addressing the needs of women and girls with regard to proper sanitation needs to be a vital component. Why? Because women and girls are disproportionately affected by inadequate access to sanitation due to a number of physiological, social and cultural factors. These challenges cannot be overcome without addressing the correlation between sanitation and women’s vulnerability to gender-based violence.
Overall, inadequate access to sanitation unequally affects women and girls in many of the following ways: Unhygienic public toilets and latrines threaten the health of women and girls who are prone to reproductive tract infections caused by poor sanitation; during menstruation, pregnancy and postnatal stages, the need for adequate sanitation becomes even more critical; and, when sanitation facilities are available, it tends to be women who bear cleaning responsibilities and disposal of human waste such as “manual scavengers,” making them susceptible to disease.
When women and girls do not have access to private sanitation facilities, they resort to open areas, find a remote (often unprotected and hidden) place or travel a distance to where facilities exist.
Not only does this cause women and girls to suffer indignity, severe health risks, fear, shame and ostracism, but it increases their risk of multiple abuses including harassment, bullying, physical and sexual assault, inappropriate touching and other nonconsensual sexual acts, including rape. This causes individual harm, curtailing their freedom of mobility, limiting their productive activities, and denying them full participation in community matters and decision-making that have a bearing on their lives — while the lack of adequate sanitary facilities in schools inhibits access to education.
EQUALITY AND DIGNITY
Equality and dignity is the theme of World Toilet Day 2014. The campaign will inspire action to end open defecation and put spotlight on how access to improved sanitation leads to a reduction in assault and violence on women and girls. More about this here.
Having to defecate openly infringes on human safety and dignity. Women and girls risk rape and abuse as they wait until night falls because they lack of access to a toilet that offers privacy.
Where toilets do exist, additional inequalities present in usability. Toilets generally remain inadequate for populations with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly, and women and girls requiring facilities to manage menstrual hygiene.
Without accessible toilets for these populations, they remain excluded from opportunities to attend school and gain employment.
Know your toilets…..
Important policy actions include analyzing and responding to vulnerabilities to violence in sanitation-related policies, strategies, plans, budgets and systems; building the capacity of staff and partners; consulting with gender-based violence specialists to support an appropriate response in the sector; designing, constructing and managing infrastructure to account for and reduce vulnerabilities; ensuring that community members have adequate information on safety linked to water and sanitation and hygiene and have access to reporting and recourse mechanisms; and most importantly, ensuring that women and girls, especially those who may be marginalized are consulted and part of the planning processes.
Social movements, like the “No Toilet, No Bride” initiative in India, are helping to alter behavior, social and cultural norms.
Also critical is the acknowledgement that violence occurs fundamentally because women and girls have less power in society and because of the gender discrimination they face. It is not enough to only address the immediate needs within water and sanitation. These key measures must be accompanied by the broader and more comprehensive work that is required to address violence against women and girls. This requires governments to proactively and concretely invest in structural and institutional change and social transformation that can undo the systemic gender inequality and discrimination that tolerate and allow abuse.
Much violence against girls occur at or near schools – there is a big job to be done to challenge inequalities, discrimination and violence in schools – and then to take action.
Gender equality and access to clean, safe and private sanitation, must be prioritized in the post-2015 development agenda, taking into account the particular needs of women and girls to secure economic progress, and ensure a life of dignity and safety for all.