World Toilet Day is WORLD Toilet Day, not developing world toilet day

November 19, 2012: it’s World Toilet Day. Around the world, one in three women has no access to a safe toilet. The situation, especially for women, is desperate. It’s a global crisis, driven in many instances by taboos and stigma and in others by public policy. From Uganda, Mozambique, India, and the Solomon Islands to Mongolia and Vietnam to Haiti to Bolivia to South Africa and Kenya and Zambia and Ghana to Sri Lanka to Ethiopia, the situation is serious.  As Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization, the real WTO, and one of the initiators of World Toilet Day has argued, it’s a human tragedy.

Women’s lack of access to safe toilets is a human tragedy everywhere. Not just in developing countries.

Last week, 20 women U.S. Senators gathered for an event. Before the event, they headed off to the women’s bathroom, only to discover there were only two stalls. While much levity has been generated by “first time ever traffic jam at the women’s Senators’ bathroom”, by women Senators hitting up against the porcelain ceiling, the Senators’ lack of access to a safe, clean, available toilet points to a more dire situation, in the United States.

Women prisoners often lack access to safe, clean, available toilets. Women living with disabilities who have been institutionalized often lack access to safe, clean, available toilets. In fact, women living with disabilities out on the streets often lack access to safe, clean, available toilets. Women and girls in schools often find going to the bathroom a hazardous journey.

Women in traditionally all-male fields often lack access to safe, clean, available toilets. For example, women in the building trades often describe “limited access to sanitary toilets.”

Many women farm workers find no toilets in the fields, and when there is one, it’s often a site of sexual harassment. They find the housing provided to farm workers has a similar lack of functioning toilets, as well as a lack of functioning sewage and potable water.

And of course, across the United States, when landlords look to move tenants out in the name of `development’, the first line of attack is maintenance. Along with failure, or refusal, to repair public spaces, such as hallways and lobbies, landlords use broken plumbing in their `assault by blight’. Across the United States, women, mostly women of color, living in targeted neighborhoods struggle with lack of access to safe, clean, available toilets.

World Toilet Day is WORLD Toilet Day, not developing world toilet day.

(Image Credit: United Nations)

Black Looks: In Haiti, toilets are a human right: From poo to compost in 6 months

I met Sasha Kramer the co-founder of SOIL [Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods] one Sunday afternoon at a Haitian family wedding party high up on the top of a hill in Pernier district of Port-au-Prince.    About 20 of us piled into the flat bed truck and drove up and up at some points the road was so steep and so full of rocks and holes I feared those in the back would fall off.  Sasha and her colleague Nick were already there and later Nick would give a “best man” speech in fluent Kreyol, which was pretty impressive.  As in most Haitian gatherings there was a great deal of singing – I always wonder why hymns always sound so much better when sung in one of the many African languages or in Black churches! This is a whole other story so I will leave it aside for now.

Sasha arrived in Haiti in 2004 working for a Human Rights organisation. Two years later she and her friend Sarah Brownell founded SOIL and started putting up toilets in Cap Haitian in the north of the country.  We think about the right to food, water and shelter but most often forget the sanitation – what goes in must come out – there is no way to avoid it.  And Haiti along with water supplies desperately needs a sanitation system starting with collection of market waste which following SOIL’s vision could be turned into compost for farmers.

After the earthquake Sasha came down to Port-au-Prince to help out and met Rea Dol and began helping out with the emergency food distribution along with Rea’s family, friends and neighbours. Everyone worked day and night buying food, packaging it into plastic bags and distributing to anyone in need. Shortly after the earthquake SOIL were approached by Oxfam and asked to build 200 toilets in the camps across the city. There were moments of panic as they did not feel they were ready but recognising the desperate need managed to gather together a team in PAP and began building the toilets.

The philosophy behind SOIL which they describe as  ”liberation ecology” is

dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities and transforming wastes into resources in Haiti. We believe that the path to sustainability is through transformation, of both disempowered people and discarded materials, turning apathy and pollution into valuable resources. SOIL promotes integrated approaches to the problems of poverty, poor public health, agricultural productivity, and environmental destruction. We attempt to nurture collective creativity through developing collaborative relationships between community organizations in Haiti and academics and activists internationally Empowering communities, building the soil, nourishing the grassroots.

Toilets too are a human right.

The toilets are pretty cool – much needed in Haiti and we could do with some in Nigeria, other parts of the global south and rural areas everywhere.  There had been some problems with the one in the school – getting the kids to put the loo paper in a separate bucket rather than the toilet was frustrating but then with no running water, having to buy water and carry buckets to flush the toilet the compost still remained a better option

The toilets are based on a compost system starting with the poo and ending up with fertilizer for growing food.  First the toilet which consists of two compartments, one for urine and the other for poo placed exactly where you would sit or stand up.

Next to the toilet is a bucket full of wood shavings and one for the toilet paper. After use, you take a handful of shavings and sprinkle over the poo. This continues until the barrel is full.  Instructions on how to use the loo are written on the door.

It is then removed through a side door, sealed and left for 6 months while it ferments nicely towards becoming compost and used to fertilizer gardens and farms.  Eventually the hope is that a complete “waste collection and transport system” will be built including a treatment plant using garden and market waste, tested to meet standards and sold at a low cost to farmers across the country.

The one I used which was near a small church and presumably used by visitors was extremely clean with absolutely no smell, no bugs, nothing and outside was a tap to wash your hands, though to be on the safe side in the time of cholera  people should try and use a sanitizer as well.

PS: If you are thinking about an organisation to donate to in Haiti then SOIL is one to consider – will write more on a couple of other transformational actions taking place.

Sokari Ekine writes and organizes at Black Looks: This post originally appeared here: Thanks as ever to Sokari for her work and labor and for her sharing spirit.

(Photo Credit: SOIL)

Women and Water: World Toilet Day

Friday, November 19th was World Toilet Day.  While this may not have the ring to it that World Water Day or World AIDS Day has, like those days it brings attention to a pressing problem: the lack of adequate sanitation through much of the world.

Approximately 2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to basic sanitation.  The problem of lack of santitation compounds the problem of clean water access – without sanitation measures, people defecate in the open which eventually will wash into streams and rivers.  Drinking that water without treating it first can be extremely hazardous to one’s health, creating problems like widespread, chronic diarrhea and other water bourne illnesses.  Lack of sanitation has caused more deaths than all the wars of the 20th century combined.

World Toilet Day is a day of awareness to bring attention to this issue.  While the problem may seem to be solvable by just placing toilets in strategic areas, dirty toilets are just as much a part of the problem as no toilets.  The problem with lack of sanitation is a health problem, first and foremost, and dirty toilets can cause just as much risk to health as no toilets.

Lack of sanitation also complicates the issues of women’s security.  ‘Taking care of business’ in the open can leave a woman vulnerable to attack.  Additionally, she must do so in the early morning or late at night in order to protect her privacy because being seen going to the bathroom is associated with shame in many cultures.  Again this leaves her vulnerable to sexual assault.

Without adequate sanitation methods, young girls leave their education earlier because there is nowhere for them to urinate at school in private: the only option is to do so in front of peers, again making the girls vulnerable to sexual and physical assault.  Added to this is the problem of managing menstruation without adequate sanitation.  Without clean sanitation facilities, girls drop out during puberty.

In the Western world, we do not think about what impact not having toilets would be.  It is another bit of basic survival that is provided for us – we become disconnected to how important sanitation is because we don’t have to worry about finding a safe place to relieve ourselves.

If you are like me, you probably missed that last Friday was even a day of awareness.  It does not get the attention it deserves because in the Western world, we do not talk of such things.  They are taboo.  It seems like sanitation is only allowed to come up in the toilet humor of popular comedies, which are aimed at the male population.  Because women are especially not allowed to talk about such issues; it is ‘unseemingly’ or ‘unladylike.’ Feminist blogger RMJ tackles some of this in her blog ‘Deeply Problematic.’ Sanitation is another thing that women are supposed to keep private.  But keeping quiet can cause more problems than speaking up about the lack of sanitation in the world.

Women need to start speaking up about this.  The problem of sanitation does not go away just because we missed the awareness day – it is a continual problem that is not getting the attention it deserves.  Africa World Water Week is this week (Nov 22-26).  The goal of this week is to bring attention to water and sanitation issues in Africa, and the Millennium Development Goal to half the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation.  This goal is still far from being met, but getting people to talk about this issue is a big step forward.  So this week, when listing what you are thankful for, be thankful that you have access to adequate sanitation and get that conversation started.

(Photo Credit: World Toilet Organization)