Believe it or not, there are more people in the world that have cell phones than toilets! Which means more people can make a phone call or send a text than access a toilet. This has significant impact on public health. Biological contamination and the presence of feces in water is one of the highest causes of diarrhea and water-related disease causing millions of people to lose their lives every year.
But the issues that arise because of lack of toilets extends beyond health – it impacts safety, security and even education, especially women and girls. Women and girls are the most affected by the lack of sanitation because they are at risk of violent attacks when they don’t have a private or safe place. Many women and girls will withhold consuming food or drink during the day so they will not have to relieve themselves in the daylight. 1 out of 8 girls drop out of school by the 8th grade when they start menstruating because there are no toilets.
But sanitation is not just about toilets. Women leaders who are participating in the Global Women’s Water Initiative WASH Service Center Training Program understand these challenges and have identified sanitation as one of their priorities in their communities. This past July, they learned to build two different kinds of waterless toilets – for safe storage of feces, and menstruation cleaning bays – so women and girls can clean themselves when they have they are menstruating. They also learned to make reusable sanitary pads as well soap, shampoo and perfume.
Take the enzymatic digester, for example. One of the most common toilets in developing countries are pit latrines. In some communities, pit latrines exist, but they are unusable, as they are full of human waste and often shut down or locked as a result. The toilet digester is an enzymatic powder that can break down and eliminate waste in a pit latrine within 24 hours for a fraction of what it would cost to build another toilet or hire a company to extract the waste. This product is a solution for existing full toilets and can rejuvenate otherwise unused toilets. And we are discovering that participating women trainees can sell it and make a profit.
GWWI graduates now have an array of appropriate tools to start their own micro-businesses. They are being hired to build toilets and sell sanitation and hygiene-related products. Most importantly, the knowledge doesn’t end here. Our partners are helping other women do the same.
On World Toilet Day, we reflect on the courageous steps our colleagues are taking in their communities to ensure people’s safety and dignity on this day and every day.