World Toilet Day, which was celebrated November 19th, may not seem like a holiday to be taken seriously, but it is a day where awareness is spread about the 4.5 billion people who currently live without access to proper sanitation facilities.
Gender-segregated, public bathrooms became popular in the Victorian period; however, designers intentionally built fewer facilities for women to keep them out of public spaces. In fact, all public institutions, including educational buildings, workplaces, and recreational spaces were designed around the needs of men. Women were forced to cope by drinking less water, holding in their urine – which is dangerous and unhealthy – or spending less time in public, which was exactly what the men wanted.
“Buildings were mostly designed by male engineers which meant there was very little understanding of the sociological aspect of toilets. It is considered less space consuming to build urinals than cubicles and even till this day most countries have more toilets for men than women,” says Dr. Clara Greed, the emerita professor of inclusive urban planning at the University of the West of England in Bristol.
It wasn’t until the rise of the suffrage movement in the late 1800s that public toilets for women became more acceptable. This also came hand-in-hand with the rise in popularity of department stores and cafes, which encouraged women to stay in public.
In developed countries around the world, lack of access to a public toilet comes down to more of a lack of convenience than a lack of the actual facility. Undeveloped countries, however, are living in the midst of a sanitation crisis.
According to a WHO and Unicef report, progress in basic sanitation is slow in 90 countries. 600 million people around the world share a toilet with other households and 892 million people are forced to defecate in the open.
According to WaterAid’s latest report titled, “Out of Order: The State of the World’s Toilets,” 93 percent of Ethiopia’s population live without a household toilet and 732 million people in India live without basic sanitation facilities.
Women generally have a greater need to use a private or public restroom, whether it be because of incontinence issues, menstruation, or young children. According to a UNESCO report, one in 10 African girls don’t attend school during menstruation because of a lack of proper facilities for them to use. According to the WaterAid report, 46 million women in Ethiopia and 355 million women in India do not have access to safe toilets.
Many have recognized these worldly issues and have made efforts to change this reality for women around the world. Some women who live in these affected countries have teamed up with nonprofits such as WaterAid to help build facilities in their communities. Help has been brought in from other countries to build more facilities for women in places like India, and young girls are even taking matters into their own hands by working with WaterAid to educate about sanitation in schools.
It is hard to believe that billions of people around the world still suffer from something that others take for granted every day: using a toilet. The right of sanitation needs to be equal for all, and there is so much people can do to make this a reality.
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