Bathrooms and Better Lives
I have a dream…
Ever had that dream, the one where you’re giving a speech and you look down and realise you’re naked? I have. I’ve had another one, slightly different each time, that has recurred for years. I’ve dreamed that I’m absolutely busting to go to the toilet. I race around, but bathrooms are hard to find in these dreams. I eventually find one and sit down in relief. But the relief is very short lived when I realise the walls have fallen away or the door is wide open and out of reach.
I wake up from these feeling awful. The idea of going to the toilet in front of people makes me feel extremely vulnerable, exposed and humiliated. I’m lucky, though. I wake up from these dreams into a very different reality, with a choice of two bathrooms right here in my house. It’s easy to take that for granted.
Life Without a Loo.
The reality is very different in developing parts of the world. Imagine growing up as a young woman without access to private bathrooms. Think about managing your period, for example. 1 in 3 women in the word don’t have access to a toilet. That’s 2.4 billion women. More than 800 million of them are between 15 and 49; all those women are managing their periods without the privacy or sanitation of basic bathrooms.
UNICEF is working to combat this sanitation crisis in developing countries, because having no bathrooms means people have to relieve themselves out in the open. In public. This leaves women particularly exposed and vulnerable to harassment. Young women often miss school every time they have their periods, meaning their education is compromised. Sicknesses spreads due to the lack of hygiene.
How to Help.
It’s always great to donate if you can. If you can’t donate right now, you can do one simple things to contribute. Buy a bottle of Domestos. You’d normally buy something to clean your loo anyway, so it’s a simple switch if it isn’t your regular brand. Domestos has partnered with UNICEF to help end the sanitation crisis. UNICEF is operating in 190 countries with the aim of providing access to bathrooms with toilets to everyone. They also aim to teach basic hygiene to minimiss the spread of illness. Every bottle of Domestos sold until December will help to fund these projects. Domestos and UNICEF are working together to raise awareness and to fund for this vital work. Check out what happened when they put see-through bathrooms in the middle of Bondi!
Interview with Felicity Wever.
I spoke with Felicity Wever, who is working with UNICEF on programs to ensure communities have suitable sanitation, including bathrooms and clean water. Bathrooms benefit everyone in the community but definitely offer empowerment to women in particular.Access to a toilet is something most of us take for granted. How did you first become aware of this problem, specifically regarding the impact on women?
1 in 3 women in the world don’t have access to a toilet so access is certainly something that we in Australia can take for granted. I first became aware of the problem through my work for international development organisations like UNICEF.
UNICEF works with children and families all over the world and some of our key areas of focus are water, sanitation and health. When there aren’t proper systems in place for people to have access to clean water and good sanitation, their health can suffer and disease can spread.
For girls and women in particular this is an extra challenge because they are the ones who take a lead role in taking care of their families. A lack of access to a toilet means they do not have somewhere safe and private to go to the toilet so they risk embarrassing situations, harassment and violence.
What sorts of health issues do young women face when they can’t access bathrooms?
Toilets are vital in empowering girls and women in particular. Good sanitation reduces the spread of disease and improves education outcomes.
The spread of water-borne diseases like cholera happen when communities don’t have access to good, clean facilities and these diseases can spread quite quickly affecting the health of everyone in the community. When you’re healthy, you can thrive in other areas of your life.
How are young women in developing countries that are experiencing this sanitation crisis managing menstruation?
There are ways that local women and girls deal with the issue of menstruation including by using locally made, re-usable sanitary pads of sorts. However women need access to water for cleaning themselves and their pads and they need a private place. This is why they often stay home from school when they don’t have adequate facilities; they prefer not to risk the embarrassment.
Companies like Femme International and Ruby Cup aim to also supply young women in such countries with menstrual cups as sustainable, long term menstrual solutions. What do you think of these initiatives?
I don’t know of these specific initiatives but what’s really important to note is that we can all work together to solve some of these problems and help empower girls and women. UNICEF’s partnership with Domestos is doing just that.
(Read about Femme International and Ruby Cup if you’re in the market for a new menstrual cup and want to buy one that helps women in the developing world)
What are some of the social impacts on women who don’t have private, sanitary places to relieve themselves?
One of the biggest issues for young women is how menstruation can affect their education. If schools don’t have toilets, girls are often forced to stay home for one week out of every month because there’s simply nowhere for them to have some privacy at school. This has a huge impact on their education and long-term prospects. Providing toilets helps keep girls at school and ensures they can get an education. Educated women are a powerful force for change in their communities and this helps to break cycles of poverty and inequality.
It’s also important to remember that it’s about more than a toilet. By building sanitation facilities, we are also giving them an opportunity to build a better community and a better future for their own children.
What are UNICEF and other agencies doing to alleviate this problem and how can we help?
UNICEF works in 190 countries around the world and water, health and sanitation is a big focus for us. This includes installing toilets in communities who would otherwise not have access and teaching children from a young age about the importance of simple things like washing your hands to prevent disease and stay healthy.You can help by spreading the word by purchasing a bottle of Domestos from now until December – a portion of the sales go towards helping UNICEF to carry out our work so by doing this, you can help empower girls and women on the other side of the world.
You have undoubtedly met some wonderful people and been able to help change their lives. Is there one story you feel really sums up the need for action to ensure everyone has access to bathrooms?
When I visited a UNICEF supported school in Zimbabwe, I met a girl by the name of Aliah who really touched my heart. She is disabled and uses a wheelchair to get around. Before her school had bathrooms and access to clean water, it was really difficult for her to fill up her water bottle and go to the toilet in privacy. She has amazing friends who would help her and push her around in her wheelchair.
Despite the challenges she faced, Aliah was so motivated and her dream was to go to school and have the same opportunities as other girls. Now that toilets have been installed at her school, she is so incredibly happy because she can take herself to the toilet in private and she has more time to focus on learning at school. It’s completely changed her life and the lives of her friends.