SEATTLE — Fighting gender inequality and improving sanitation remain at the forefront of poverty reduction efforts. These conversations are had to better conditions for people around the globe. As eradicating these issues becomes a reality, the inseparable link between sanitation and gender equality comes into focus. Women and girls are most affected by improper sanitation. Thus it is important to consider these in the movement towards a more inclusive future.
While access to sanitation is a multi-faceted topic that has seen significant progress over the last decade, 2.4 billion people are still without access to a toilet. Currently, 13 percent of the world population relies on open defecation.
Developing countries struggle more than others with improving sanitation. In fact, only 47 percent of people in South Asia and 30 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to a toilet. However, how do these numbers perpetuate gender inequality?
Inadequate access to sanitation results in 800 deaths each day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Due to this, 99 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries. Many healthcare facilities in low and middle-income countries do not have access to water for handwashing or basic sanitation, endangering the lives of mothers and children.
Lack of access to sanitation turns menstruation into a barrier for gender equality in education. Without a safe and private toilet during the school day, students are often forced to miss days of class during their period. This fact causes some to drop out entirely. As of 2015, only 54 percent of schools in developing countries have toilets.
Due to gender stigmas, lack of access to a bathroom forces some women to wait until dark to use the bathroom to remain hidden. Some women are forced to walk long distances to a nearby latrine or field to go to the bathroom in private.
Aside from generating embarrassment, discomfort, and health issues, this poses threats to physical safety. Being in public heightens these women’s vulnerability to animal attacks or gender-based violence.
When a community gains access to a toilet or clean water, not only is public health improved, but steps are taken to promote gender equality. Gaining access to public restroom remains a U.N. sustainable development goal and the cornerstone of human rights. The U.N. hopes to achieve this goal by 2030. Lack of sanitation perpetuates gender inequality by creating a divide in places like the home, workplace, school, and bathroom. The needs of all people must be recognized to reach a state of equality.
With women and girls key to this issue, their unique needs provide a pathway to solutions toward improving sanitation. In a nutshell, safe and sanitary toilets near and in the home, school, and workplace take into account the needs of all people. Doing this is required to improve sanitation conditions around the world.
Ending manual scavenging, improving access to water, providing free and consistent health supplies and efficient waste management systems can help make gender equality in sanitation a reality.
Complete access to sanitation becomes a recognizable goal only with the voices of all people represented. In a 2016 report, the U.N. Women emphasizes that these aims will remain unattainable without recognizing sex and gender as separate forces of identity. Combatting gender inequality with improved sanitation necessitates taking into account the biological as well as cultural stigmas that prohibit all people from access to sanitation.
Following improvements in the field, gender equality is becoming recognized as a key topic of discussion in future sanitation efforts. With the hope of basic sanitation for all people by 2030, the U.N. sustainable development goals require that progress be made by “paying special attention to the needs of women and girls.” The United Nations Women emphasize that because the lack of sanitation creates “gendered issues,” it requires an “explicitly gendered solution” with the power to fight gender inequality and improve health.
The close tie between gender equality and sanitation may provide a look at methods for reducing improper access to sanitation and the issues it poses to poverty reduction. With this in mind, progress in improving sanitation not only promotes health, education and safety, but perhaps most importantly, aids in the fight toward gender equality for all people.
– Cleo Krejci