How improved sanitation can enhance the life of women and girls worldwide
International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on 8 March, highlighting the achievements of women worldwide while also calling for greater gender equality. One critical area where gender disparities are still prevalent is in the access to water and sanitation services, which disproportionately affects women in low- and middle-income countries. In many places, poor sanitation practices place significant barriers on women, making it challenging for them to access basic needs such as water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Poor sanitation as a barrier for women and girls
The impact of poor sanitation on women in low- and middle-income countries is multifaceted. In these countries, access to basic sanitation facilities is often limited, with millions of people lacking access to safe and clean toilets. This can have significant health implications for women, including increased rates of urinary tract infections and other diseases. Additionally, inadequate sanitation facilities can also make it difficult for women to manage their menstrual hygiene, which can lead to embarrassment and stigma, as well as increased risk of infection.
The lack of proper sanitation facilities can also impact women’s safety. In many places, women are forced to use open fields or other outdoor spaces as makeshift toilets, which can leave them vulnerable to sexual harassment, assault, or even animal attacks. This is especially true for women who must venture out alone at night to use the bathroom, putting them in danger.
Moreover, poor sanitation can also have an economic impact on women. When women must spend a significant amount of time and energy collecting water, searching for a safe place to relieve themselves, or caring for family members who are sick due to poor sanitation, they have less time to devote to income-generating activities, which can perpetuate the cycle of poverty. This lack of these basic necessities can lead to girls missing school and women being unable to work or participate in other daily activities, which has a significant impact on their social and economic empowerment.
So, what can be done to address these issues?
First and foremost, there must be greater investment in improving sanitation infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries. This includes the construction of safe and clean toilets, as well as the provision of clean water and proper waste management systems. In addition, more needs to be done to address the stigma around menstruation, including promoting the use of affordable and environmentally friendly menstrual hygiene products, such as reusable pads and menstrual cups.
WaterAid India’s brief report ‘Menstrual Hygiene Management: Informed Product Choice and Disposal’ aims to create awareness regarding the menstrual product landscape in India for women and girls to start making an informed choice as per their needs.
It is also important to engage women themselves in the process of improving sanitation. Women’s voices and experiences should be central to the development of sanitation policies and programmes. This includes working with women to develop innovative and culturally appropriate solutions, as well as involving them in the planning and decision-making processes.
Finally, we must also work to address the underlying gender inequalities that contribute to poor sanitation outcomes for women. This includes challenging harmful social norms that perpetuate gender-based violence, discrimination, and exclusion, and promoting women’s leadership and empowerment at all levels of society.
In conclusion, poor sanitation is a significant barrier to the health, safety, and economic well-being of women in low- and middle-income countries. By investing in improved sanitation infrastructure, engaging women in the process of change, and addressing underlying gender inequalities, we can work towards a world where all women have access to the basic sanitation facilities they need to thrive. Doing more to improve sanitation means doing more for a world that is more equitable, diverse and inclusive.
This International Women’s Day, let’s commit to #SanitAction and #EmbraceEquity to ensure that all women have the dignity and respect they deserve.