In many countries, particularly low-and-middle-income countries, a lack of safe toilet facilities is a still complex issue. Despite gains in safe sanitation being made in recent years, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals highlighted that 2.4 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets and latrines. This lack of sanitation facilities is closely linked to malnutrition and diarrhoea, one of the biggest killers of children under five in the world.
Besides the obvious disease impacts, a lack of a safe sanitation space is closely linked to women suffering both socially and economically. Unsafe toilet facilities can lead to anxiety and abuse, particularly for pregnant or disabled women. Spending so much time in search of a safe sanitation space can reduce the amount of time that can be spent doing other things. For example, girls in school may have to take days off each month due to menstruation because of the inadequate facilities in school, which harms their education and in turn their futures.
Furthermore, cultural norms in certain countries mean many women wait until after it’s dark to use toilet facilities, meaning they abstain from food and drink all day. Often, they avoid the toilets altogether, instead seeking out fields and railroad tracks. A series of high-profile cases in India have highlighted that this makes them vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault.
Many toilets being built by around the world are not actually helping deal with the issue. They operate on a ‘one size fits all’ approach that fails to realise that different genders and cultures require different things. For example, many toilets have no lighting for safe use in the night-time or are joined up to men’s toilets, both raising the risk of assault on women. Many governments around the world are made up of predominantly men and too often communities, especially the women in the communities, are not consulted about what they need or want from the facilities.