Water and sanitation a global problem?

by Curswell Tshihwela

Still today water and sanitation remain a global problem that many are exposed to throughout the world. Around the world, 1.8 billion people lack access to safe clean water and 2.3 billion people are without proper toilets or other means of improved sanitation. In our societies, people still have difficulties in getting access to clean water and proper sanitation which shows a well respected human dignity. Everyone deserves the dignity of having a toilet and the right to water that won’t make them sick. However, it is women and girls that are affected by the lack of water and sanitation the most.

In many developing countries, especially in rural areas, people don’t have access to a supply of reliable clean water nearby and therefore have to travel to find a water source. It’s been acknowledged widely that the responsibility for collecting drinking water for the household, usually falls to girls and women regardless of how many men are in the household. women spend up to five hours walking an average of three-and-a-half miles every day simply to collect water. This impacts their productivity significantly. It means that young girls spend their days walking long distances as part of their daily chores when they could be in school receiving an education. Boys are not given the same gendered responsibilities, so are more likely to have more time to go to work and school and prosper and thrive.

This creates a barrier in the education perspective and productivity in the workplaces due to the fact that a lack of adequate private toilets and clean water to wash hands in schools, and the workplace, make managing periods difficult for girls and women. This means adolescent girls either miss school once a month or they drop out altogether. It is also a barrier for women going to work and earning an income. In India, 23 percent of girls drop out of school when they start menstruating. In Nepal, it’s been reported that 41 percent of girls miss out on school during their periods. During menstruation, pregnancy, and postnatal stages the need for adequate sanitation becomes even more critical and Toilet-avoidance dehydration is a particular health threat. Women are acutely aware of safety and privacy issues associated with the need for sanitation.

Widespread violence against women in relation to sanitation use has been well documented in dozens of countries, including Fiji, India, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Africa. “In many countries, social or cultural norms prevent girls and women from using the same sanitation facilities as male relatives, for instance, the father-in-law, or prohibit the use of household facilities on the days women and girls menstruate. More generally, menstrual hygiene management presents an enormous challenge for many adolescent girls and women. I have made it a priority during my mandate to always enquire about menstrual hygiene, and I have found that talking about menstruation is taboo all over the world.” Women are much more facilities-dependent than men: men may be able to urinate discreetly in open spaces outside toilets.

Given cultural norms and physiological differences, women, however, are typically much more dependent on using toilets facilities. According to the United Nations, 2.5 billion people do not have access to proper sanitation, including private toilets in their homes. Sharing public toilets with men put women at great risk of violence and sexual assault. Reports that are common and frequent are those of women being raped, stalked, or assaulted when they use public facilities that are not monitored or secured. Women and men are important stakeholders in the water supply and sanitation due to the different roles they play in the management and use of water and sanitation. Women bear the impact of inadequate, deficient or inappropriate water and sanitation facilities and services. However, men dominate the area of planning and decision-making regarding water and sanitation investments and women’s views are under-represented, implying that women’s practical and strategic needs are not addressed fairly in households.

According to the World Health Organization 1.1 billion people (15% of the global population) practice open defecation, 600 million of those live in India. This is particularly risky business for women who have an increased chance of assault when they go to the toilet in the open. Women are more likely to be in the home and they are more likely to be associated with sanitation – looking after young children, for example. They are more at risk of disease due to pathogens as a result of their exposure to wastewater. Women are also more likely to be exposed to pathogens and toxins when it comes to reusing wastewater for growing food.

Because women are disproportionately affected by water and sanitation issues, it is critical that women are involved in consultation and decision making when it comes to improving water and sanitation solutions in communities. United Nations General Assembly President Peter Thomson said at World Water Week, “SDG6, the water, and sanitation goal, is in need of a major push.

Connect with Curswell on Twitter @curswell4

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