1 in 3 women lack safe toilets

19 November 2012
Girls and women, Toilets


Nearly 1/3 of women around the world has no access to a safe toilet, threatening their health and exposing them to shame, fear and violence.

This means that on World Toilet Day, November 19, 1.25 billion women and girls lack safe and adequate sanitation and of those 526 million don't have a toilet at all. For these women, a lack of access to latrines that meet their basic needs compounds the risk of violence that many experience every day. In fact, worldwide one in three women will experience physical, sexual or emotional violence in her lifetime.

We call on governments to recognize the importance of access to water and sanitation in improving the health, dignity and safety of women and girls living in the world's poorest communities. [David Winder, CEO, WaterAid, America]

David Winder, CEO of WaterAid, America said:
"A third of women worldwide risk disease, shame, and physical, sexual and emotional violence because they have nowhere safe to go to the bathroom. Social taboos prevent women from openly discussing such personal issues, meaning that many crimes go unreported and many women are suffering in silence. Impunity for these crimes increases the challenge of preventing violence against women, but makes it even more critical that we all contribute to addressing this massive crisis.

We call on governments to recognize the importance of access to water and sanitation in improving the health, dignity and safety of women and girls living in the world's poorest communities."

Other studies from Uganda, Kenya, India and the Solomon Islands show that such experiences of fear, indignity and violence are common place wherever women lack access to safe and adequate sanitation.

Sandimhia Renato, 18, from Mozambique walks 15 minutes every day to defecate in the bush. She told us:
"Sometimes when I go I feel ashamed and go back without defecating. Sometimes I wait until dark to go there so no one can see me. I will be very concerned about Diani, my daughter, going to the bush because it is so far from here. At night it is very dangerous. People get killed. A woman and a boy were killed with knives. One woman I know of has been raped."

Security was a recurring concern in the poll of women from slums in Lagos, Nigeria, with 67% of respondents saying they feel unsafe even using shared or community toilets in a public place.

Poor hygiene, another concern raised by the poll respondents, has serious implications on health. Every day, 2,000 mothers lose a child to diarrheal diseases caused by a lack of adequate sanitation and clean water. Diarrheal diseases are the second-leading cause of preventable death for children aged one month to five years, worldwide.

Lack of decent sanitation also affects productivity and livelihoods. Women and girls living in developing countries without bathroom facilities spend 97 billion hours each year finding a place to go in the open, according to figures released in a WaterAid briefing.

Sanitation is an effective and efficient investment. For every $1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of $4 is returned in increased productivity. Yet, 2.5 billion people still live without even a basic pit latrine, with wide ranging consequences at the individual, national and even global levels.

Dr. Winder continued:
"On World Toilet Day WaterAid joins the call of hundreds of international organizations for governments to keep the promises they have made to improve access to sanitation and safe water in the world's poorest countries.

In particular, we call on the United States to expand its leadership on safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. These critical services underlie many of our international development and foreign policy priorities, yet they remain low priority here and around the world. In addition, while we commend the US Department of State and USAID for releasing the first-ever interagency strategy for addressing gender-based violence worldwide, we encourage all partner agencies, especially USAID, to consider the vulnerability to violence created by lack of access to safe water and safe latrines at school or home."

WaterAid has also released a new film showing what it would be like for women in the western world if they also lacked sanitation