Women, girls and children at risk, due to lack of toilets | Asia Pacific

Women, girls and children at risk, due to lack of toilets

Women, girls and children at risk, due to lack of toilets

Updated 19 November 2012, 21:59 AEDT

Today is World Toilet Day.

Around the world, one in three women risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet.

Facing each day without access to this basic necessity is not just an inconvenience; it impacts on all aspects of life and it is women and girls who suffer the most.

Correspondent: Del Irani

Speaker: Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation

DE ALBUQUERQUE: Well sanitation is a serious issue, not only in developing countries, but also in developed countries. In developing countries, it is very serious, because many people simply don't have access to a toilet, something which is natural for us. They don't have access to a toilet, they have to defecate in the open. We have nowadays currently over one billion people defecating in the open everyday and then we just have to have think OK what happens with all those faeces. They enter into the ground, they penetrate the ground, they enter into groundwater aquifer, they go to oceans, to rivers and obviously they pollute the water that we drink, that many people in developing countries drink. And obviously faeces attracts flies and flies transport in terms of diseases, and as you must know, there are thousands of people, 7,500 people dying every year out of water and sanitation-born diseases. So it is a crisis that we are facing and since sanitation is a taboo issue, it's something dirty, that we want to hide. We don't want to talk about it, we don't talk about it. So if we don't talk about it and if we make a taboo around it, obviously it's very difficult for governments to prioritise it in their policies and to address this problem.

IRANI: Ms Alburquerque, why is it that women suffer more than men from lack of toilets?

ALBUQUERQUE: Well, imagine yourself, imagine yourself in a country with no toilets, in a city with no toilets and having to figure when you have a need to defecate, where will I do it, where will I hide, where will I go to to have some privacy? And in that process, from going from your village or town to a place where you can hide, to do your business in privacy, you are at the risk, you are at the risk of attack and many women are attacked, they are raped, sexually harassed, just because they don't have a place to do their business, just because they have to find a place in the darkness, because normally women refrain themselves during the day and because they're ashamed from people, of doing their business publicly and the observation of other people, so they wait until it' s dark, and obviously then the risks are higher.

IRANI: What are some of the other dimensions, like perhaps the social implications of this issue?

ALBUQUERQUE: There are other dimensions of the problem, but each time that I go on mission for the UN, I always visit a school and I always talk with the girls and not having sanitation, not having sex-segregated toilets, not having girls only toilets means that girls, after a certain age, when they reach puberty, they don't go to school and especially don't go to school when they have their period, when they are being menstruated. And I met several girls who tell me they leave school one week a month simply because they have no toilet in school. So you see the dimension of the tragedy.

IRANI: So Ms Alburquerque, how do you go about solving this problem?

ALBUQUERQUE: Raising awareness to this problem, making people understand that it is something that we have to tackle, even though this is a taboo issue, it's not a pleasant issue, it's not something that we want to talk about, but we have to do it.

IRANI: But what about implementation? Surely the solution needs to be bigger than just building more bathrooms?

ALBUQUERQUE: Of course, just building bathrooms doesn't solve the problem and when I was on mission in Bangladesh I was told that latrinization is not sanitation, because latrinization is dumping latrines in developing countries and then people simply don't understand the value-added and sanitation is precisely what you mention. It's raising people's awareness about the value of sanitation, that it saves life, using sanitation, washing your hands, having good hygiene practices and it changes, it does change the world and just let me mention a figure which I think is very impressive - for each dollar invested in sanitation, there is an average of eight dollars gained in costs averted and productivity gains, which means it's a smart investment.

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