When Did Toilets Become A Luxury?

Nov 18, 2020 | Blog, Global Secretariat, GS, News

By Marissa Ware, Communications & Advocacy Specialist, WRA Global Secretariat

Safe water, sanitation and hygiene are the basic building blocks of a quality healthcare experience for all women and girls, everywhere. Having access to a clean toilet in a health center is often no more than an afterthought. Yet, toilets are top of mind for many. The What Women Want campaign asked more than a million women and girls in 114 countries to tell us the one thing they wanted most for their own reproductive and maternal health care. For thousands of women, among countless other competing priorities for quality health care, toilets were the paramount concern.

Toilets and reproductive and maternal health? What’s the connection?

Backing up a moment, millions of people seek care daily in facilities that lack water, sanitation, hygiene, waste management and cleaning services. Globally, one in five health care facilities have no sanitation services, let alone toilets, impacting 1.5 billion people. For women, a lack of access to toilets can lead to difficult and degrading situations when managing their health, hygiene and safety. For example, women and girls need a place to cleanly and discreetly manage menstruation when they are at a health facility. After giving birth, women need access to adequate washrooms to bathe and manage postpartum bleeding. And it’s not just availability of toilets, but availability of clean toilets. No one wants to use a dirty toilet, period. A clean and hygienic environment is fundamental to preventing infection and upholding the dignity and rights of women and girls seeking healthcare, as well as those providing the care.

More than a Clean Toilet

Adequate sanitation facilities are essential to safety and dignity for women. Clean toilets are part of the equation, but they alone are not enough. Our new Behind the Demands report reveals women urgently want cleanliness throughout their wider healthcare environment, ranging from labor rooms to hospital beds. Women are not asking for a luxury. What they are asking for –clean toilets, clean bedding, clean surroundings, clean floors – is basic decency. Yet the issue of cleanliness is largely being ignored by maternal health advocates and the broader global community. We are failing to listen to women and healthcare workers and what they need. Women are telling us to lift our heads up, challenge our assumptions and heed their call.

A Call to Action:

Women and healthcare workers deserve to seek and provide care in an environment that protects their health, dignity and safety. Unless we deliver on the most basic of needs, we will never create a world where all women and girls realize their right to quality health and wellbeing. On behalf of the 1.2 million women and girls who bravely told us what matters to them most for their reproductive and maternal healthcare, we ask that you read the new Behind the Demands report, where we go deeper into the top five What Women Want requests and share the intricacies behind women’s calls for action—including clean toilets.

Women have told us what to do; now they want us to do it. Equipped with this new data and the ability to truly explore it, we can collectively take one giant step closer to heeding their call.

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