4 Reasons Why Inadequate Sanitation and Water Access is a Feminist Climate Issue.
For people who menstruate, access to sanitation; a toilet, proper disposal of waste and clean water, are essential to their health, safety, and future.
Why is Sanitation Important?
According to WHO, 2.6 billion people don’t have access to basic sanitation. This means clean water, toilets, cleaning facilities and adequate drainage of waste. Let’s be clear here, access to clean water and sanitation are identified as basic human rights. Lack of access is detrimental to the health of people who live in poverty, and is linked to issues with water contamination, malnutrition, and the transmission of diarrhoeal, intestinal and other water-borne diseases. Every year nearly 850,000 people die as a result of lack of sanitation and clean water. Many of these deaths can be attributed to children under 5.
Every time we use a toilet, every time we wash our hands, every time we drink clean water, we are exercising a human right that we are privileged to have. Sanitation, clean water, and adequate waste removal provide a solution that reduces disease, death, and poverty.
Sanitation Disproportionately Affects Women
Women in poverty are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to sanitation in four key areas. Each of these results in increased risks to their health, safety and future.
- Responsibility to keep any sanitation facilities clean (if they exist) often falls to women. They dispose of waste and dirty water, usually without protective clothing and/or equipment.
- Women are responsible for the care of children and the elderly, who are at higher risk of becoming sick when exposed to poor sanitation.
- Women are exposed to more pathogens than men, due to cleaning and caregiving responsibilities. This increased exposure increases the risk of sickness.
- Using unclean or inadequate facilities carries an increased risk of UTI’s for women and girls.
- Cultural norms of modesty result in women avoiding bladder and bowl relief until night time, causing dehydration, psychological stress, UTI’s, constipation and gastric disorders.
3. Education and Independence
- Young women who menstruate, and have no adequate sanitation at school, usually don’t attend during menstruation or drop out of school altogether. This becomes a barrier to escaping poverty.
- In India, 23% of girls drop out of school when they start menstruating, while in Nepal it is as high as 41%.
- Women trying to earn an income often face a similar situation. Without sanitation they must either stay at home or work in unhygienic conditions.
- Women risk physical and sexual violence due to a lack of access to sanitation and/or reliance on public sanitation.
- “Women’s experience of not having access to toilets is different from men’s, and it adds to the [water] problem significantly. One of the most fundamental issues is that women are at risk in places where open defecation is the norm,” — Professor Cynthia Mitchell from UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures
Creating safe sanitation, and separate facilitates improves the lives of all, but has a significantly higher impact on women and girls, boosting safety and school attendance.
Nonprofits are incredibly important for implementing and sustaining sanitation facilities. Donations and/or volunteering enable these organizations to keep functioning. However, you can also look out for products that commit a percentage of profits to aid this cause.
- Life Water, Sanitation First, Water.org, WaterSHED, Water Aid and Sanergyare all non profits seeking to improve sanitation and/or water conditions in poverty-stricken areas.
- Who Gives A Crap Toilet Paper — Donates 50% of profits to help build toilets for those in need.
- Janji — A performance apparel company, donates 5% of sales to clean water funds.
- Hand in Hand Soap — For every bar purchased, another bar and one month’s worth of clean water is donated to a child in Haiti.
- Peepoo — A personal, single-use, self-sanitizing, fully biodegradable toilet that prevents faeces from contaminating the immediate area.