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.
Currently, 2.5B people lack access to improved sanitation, and daily 2200 children die from diarrheal disease. One fourth of Indian school-age girls drop out during puberty due to lack of sanitation options during menses.
Empowering women and girls to lead in solving the sanitation crisis will improve lives, livelihoods, health, safety, and dignity. Their leadership will transform the sanitation value chain from user interface, to collection, to treatment and reuse of fecal sludge.
The next phase of our program reaffirms our ongoing commitment to address sanitation through the eyes of women and girls, focusing on the unique role that women and girls can play in addressing the global sanitation crisis. A problem that disproportionately impacts women and girls, should be addressed from the perspective of women and girls. This video looks at the problem and solution from the perspective of a 12-year old girl name Lakshmi, living in India.
As the world changes economically and more and more sanitation options become readily available to everyone, there’s been an increase in the use of paper-based products when cleaning yourself while using the bathroom.
An article in Quartz speaks on this topic and the effect it is having specifically in India.
“Indians may slowly be undergoing a whole new round of “toilet training”: Toilet wipes, diapers and sanitary napkins are flying off the shelves in Asia’s third largest economy.”
Several things are causing this shift, but chief amongst them appear to be:
Growth in disposable income.
Education and awareness of these products (particularly with sanitation protection for women and girls).
Companies seeing a business opportunity and making their products more affordable.
“The tissue and hygiene segment in India is estimated to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 76% till 2020, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm. The market will, thus, grow from the current Rs5,780 crore ($870 million) to over Rs10,000 crore ($1.5 billion) by 2020.”
That is incredible growth and interesting to observe, particularly in cultures like India that have dealt with sanitation in a certain way for centuries. In many cases they are quite stuck in their ways.
As we work towards solutions to address the global sanitation problem at large, it’s heartening to see that there is always the potential for old ideologies to shift.
It’s great piece with lots of additional information and graphs to back it all up. Click here to read the article in it’s entirety.
A recent article in The Guardian touches upon an age old job that no one wants to talk about: manual scavenging.
“A caste-based role, manual scavenging condemns mostly women to clean excreta from dry latrines with their hands and carry it on their heads to dumps. Men from the community clean open gutters and sewerage lines, often with no protective gear.”
If the assigned task wasn’t bad enough, their treatment in society is the salt in the proverbial wound. Any manual scavenger, including their children, are treated on a subhuman level in India’s society. Basically untouchable. And even though comparatively strict laws have been passed recently prohibiting manual scavenging, the practice still occurs due to the caste-based system and the discrimination that is deeply inherent within.
There is a silver lining though. Activist groups are now teaching these lower caste groups their rights and the laws that have been designed to protect them in a more modern society. Better still, they are educating the younger generations in these lower castes so that they can make a difference in their own way when it comes time for them to enact change.
“The way forward, activists believe, is to educate the younger generation, who are open to change. The barefoot lawyers initiative, which trains men and women from all communities, is a step in that direction.”
For sure, it’s an incredibly sobering read, but it’s also a very real problem that is gaining momentum towards a day when these sad old beliefs will, hopefully, be memories in a brighter future.
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.