In the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, our team and partners at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have a commitment to developing sanitation solutions for men and women, girls and boys, however in many parts of the developing world that lack access to safe and effective sanitation, gender discrimination disproportionately impacts women and girls. We believe that by focusing on the needs of adolescent girls, empowering them with better options, a virtuous cycle will be created that improves overall quality of life for girls, their families, and generations to come.
Below is a short video about a 12-year-old girl in India, highlighting the importance of including women and girls directly in the product design, education and business aspects of providing sanitation solutions.
A great article by Rebecca Hobson on India’s burgeoning (and lucrative) market for menstruation management was posted recently on vice.com’s “Broadly.” channel. It discusses how, finally, the armor that surrounds the fear and ignorance of a woman’s period – and how to properly handle it – is developing some cracks in recent years.
“India is currently experiencing something of a menstrual health enlightenment. Numerous NGOs, government campaigns and social enterprises have sprung up in the last five years. All with the same mission: to address and remedy the country’s complicated and complex attitudes towards menstruation.”
It’s high time this enlightenment is occurring too. For generations women have been obscenely mistreated and shunned for something that occurs naturally in every woman, every month, since the human race began.
“These same women are often considered impure while on their period. They are barred from the kitchen, temples, mosques and, bizarrely, from pickle—which they’re told will rot if they touch it. Taboos that would be farcical if the consequences weren’t so dire.”
The piece also covers how, now that local people (and companies) are becoming knowledgable on menstrual hygiene management, that there is a bit of a race to find what is the best option for a place as densely populated as India. Pads are a start but, depending on how they are made, can lead to a huge waste problem – not to mention an equally huge plumbing problem in a place where functioning sewerage is already in dire supply. Menstrual cups are also an option that produce way less waste. But there is still stigma surrounding it societally, though even that is changing worldwide.
In short, it’s a complicated issue, and to a certain degree it needs to be. There is no turn key solution. What works in some countries, can’t/won’t in others. We all need to work towards solutions that can work for every female on this planet. Regardless of geography or culture.
There’s much, much more in this article that is well worth your time. Click here to read it in it’s entirety.
In a recent opinion piece on NPR.org by Jane Otai, she describes the ways that, as a woman, she dealt with finding proper toilet facilities to go the bathroom in Kenya.
She holds no punches when describing the situation either.
“To get there, I had to walk 10 minutes, stand in the queue for my turn and be vigilant about my safety. At crowded times, like in the morning and evening, I might have to wait 10 minutes. The people in line would be dancing to keep from peeing and complaining about how the people using the toilets were taking too long.
In sum, a toilet was a facility I could only access with great difficulty.
It was also filthy. The toilets were never cleaned. One had to master special maneuvers to avoid messing oneself with human waste found inside. Since there was no toilet paper, people would wipe their hands on the walls. If you were wearing a sweater, you learned to remove it before entering — or else the stench would stick with you. And for this experience, I had to pay a shilling per visit, money that was not available readily.”
She also spends time on the fact that, by merely being a woman in an informal settlement in Kenya, her safety was at risk if she ever needed a toilet.
There was nothing worse than getting an upset stomach due to bad food or water. This meant visiting the toilet many times in a day.
I say “day” because, for a girl, visiting the toilet at night can be very risky. Walking in the dark gives men opportunities to prey on young girls — to molest or rape them. My friends and I were terrified of this possibility and never ventured out between dusk and dawn.
Her story is a universal one. We’ve heard it many times from women and girls that live in a country with inadequate or nonexistent sanitation. Our project is working towards providing a solution that not only gives a safe and private option for anyone to relieve themselves, but also a solution that caters to the needs of women and girls with a keen focus on MHM. The sanitation needs of women in developing countries has been neglected for far too long. By continuing to ignore these issues, we only further deny women and girls the opportunity to live life with dignity, safety, and an equal opportunity to education. The world can do better.
The entire post is definitely worth a read. It’s a sobering account for sure, but it’s one we all should have on our collective radar.
We whole-heartedly share this message, and have embodied this in our work in the lab as well as our field testing in India to develop our prototype systems. Our continued efforts are significant, and are informing design iterations where we are including MHM into our sanitation and waste treatment strategies. We are dedicating engineering R&D resources to MHM waste management and incineration strategies, social science research tools and approaches, as well as participating in extensive community engagement on how to best link MHM with innovative sanitation.
Our prototype cabin provides a space, actually with extra space, for women and girls, all with the intent to ensure a clean, private, and safe toilet space that facilitates managing menstruation, provides water and space for washing, and encompasses safe strategies for menstrual product disposal. Our prototypes have an integrated pad disposal chute and provides a mechanism for, and the distribution of, pad products.
We have much to learn and refine, but our mission and purpose to address MHM as a central part of innovative sanitation technology development is clear.
A recent article from U.S. National Public Radio (NPR) followed global Menstrual Hygiene Day (which occurred May 28), and supports our WASH advocacy efforts aimed at confronting the taboos and social restrictions placed on menstruating girls and women. In addition, the article also stresses the bringing of investments and innovation to mainstreaming MHM into sanitation solutions.
“Across the developing world, tens of millions of girls face major difficulties managing their monthly period. According to UNICEF, more than half the schools in the poorest countries lack private toilets. And unlike teenage girls in well-off countries, many in the developing world can’t afford (or even find) tampons and pads.”
“We’re not talking about rocket ships; we’re talking about sanitary pads,” she says. “Yet they both have the same effect. They take you places.”