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Why to give a shit about World Toilet Day #wecantwait

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Today is World Toilet Day. If that’s something you haven’t come across before, let me share a few details with you here as it’s a topic that’s becoming increasingly urgent.

If you’d told me this time last year, I’d be blogging about bogs, well, I’d have doubted you to say the least, but various things have happened during 2014 that have brought this issue into sharp relief. Even if they hadn’t, just seeing the dreadful sanitation in areas suffering with Ebola should surely be enough to make even the least interested person sit up and be thankful for their cushioned toilet roll.

Like most people in the UK, toilets are something I take for granted. The fact that we can all have one at home, that we don’t really think about every flush – these things have always been present in my lifetime. But in many places that’s still an unachievable luxury, which is why the United Nations Development Goals includes a sanitation resolution calling for an end to what is termed ‘open defecation’.

You don’t need to dwell too long on those words to grasp their meaning and, shockingly, a huge 2.5 million people do not have access to the most basic of toilets and so are forced ‘elsewhere’.

It’s an issue that has been high on agenda for some of the journalists and activists I’ve been fortunate to work with this year.

At, our lead story this month also takes a look at this issue. In his piece, The world’s biggest problem and how to fix it, journalist Sam Hailes talks about the activities of fledgling philanthropists Adam and Pete James who discover the dirty truth about this great need.

“We thought we might end up on transport or building roads,” Adam says referencing The West Wing, “but actually that’s not the most significant contributing factor to global poverty. There are bigger pieces to the puzzle. The scale and the value we would add to trying to solve that, is minimal. Clean, safe toilets is where we landed.”

On top of preventing poverty and ending violence to women, Adam believes clean, safe toilets can also provide jobs and even education.

“If we deliver dignity, which is part of what a toilet does to that community, can we also deliver the dignity of business to women? Is there a way of building that into what we’re doing?”

That impact on the lives of women and girls is an aspect that another writer, Emma Jayne addressed back in June in the UNDP sponsored issue for that month. In an article titled Toilets save lives, she raised fears that the current target will be missed by the organisation and added:

“Toilets have many other benefits too, particularly for girls and women. Many girls end up missing up to a week of school a month when they start menstruating as there is nowhere to change or dispose of sanitary protection. This means they often fall behind in their work and more likely to drop out of education. 1 in 10 African girls do not attend school during menstruation, or drop out at puberty because of the lack of clean and private sanitation facilities in schools, according to research by UNICEF.

The simple act of building a toilet can have huge implications for their future. Toilets also help protect women and girls from violence. When they are out seeking somewhere to defecate after dark. they are vulnerable to sexual assault and also from attacks by wild animals.”

This isn’t only an issue for remote rural outposts with little infrastructure. A group of activists I’ve recently come across while doing media training work in South Africa are busy tracking the public toilets issue for their township near Cape Town – a place that needs no introduction as a major city, tourist destination and business centre.

And when I say ‘public toilets’, let’s be clear, these aren’t facilities for people caught short while out of the home – these are the ONLY facilities, shared in communities without access to home toilets.

The organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi has carried out an audit of the toilets in Khyaelitsha – they are dirty, they are broken and they are unsafe. They produced the video at the top of this page and also this data rich map looking at every facility.

You’ll be hearing more about their work in the coming months too……

But for now, when you flush today, spare a thought on World Toilet Day for those who really can’t (and shouldn’t have to) wait.

* Follow news about the day on Twitter @worldtoiletday and via the hashtag #wecantwait.

Written by sarahhartley

November 19th, 2014 at 7:15 am

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  1. [...] Journalist and Blogger, Sarah Hartley, demonstrates concisely Why to Give a Shit about World Toilet Day.  In her blog, she details the shitty situation facing more than a billion women and girls as they [...]

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