Safe toilets are a start, but we need to get to the root cause
Yes, safe toilets will help protect women and girls. They provide privacy and dignity. However, this alone won’t stop violence against women, nor increase their mobility and agency. Women and girls are subjected to these human rights violations on a daily basis due to societal norms, which deprive them of their voice and influence, keep them from owning and controlling resources or participating in decision-making, and devalue their experiences of violence and other outcomes of gender-based discrimination.
We can make safe toilets a reality for millions — well-lit, with latches and within easy reach. The same holds true for water points like boreholes, which may be dug in isolated areas, thereby increasing the risk of violence. However, if we are to remove barriers to the long-term realisation of women’s rights to dignity, safety and equality, then we must all work together on the root cause, regardless of what sector we focus on, to tackle the pervasive and deeply embedded social norms which devalue women and deny them a voice. The denial of women’s empowerment and equality allows partners, families, communities and authorities to turn a blind eye to violence, and deny women and girls their basic human rights, including access to a safe toilet.
All development interventions need to include an ongoing dialogue with communities to challenge gender divisions of labour, power and control, lack of women’s bodily autonomy, as well as traditionally-defined norms. Awareness-raising campaigns and open discussions with men and boys, and community and religious leaders are key to transforming perceptions of gender roles. Crucially, in order to bolster women and girls’ agency they must have the space to articulate their rights, priorities and perspective, challenge stereotypes and participate in decision-making.
It is an outrage that women and girls are still facing this situation in 2017. Governments have promised to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030 – this is already decades late, however encouraging steps are being taken in the right direction. Governments must act urgently to fulfil their commitments and support projects and programmes which involve women in project design, and communities in awareness raising. By working together, we can bring about lasting positive change for women and girls – there is no time to wait.
Views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of any organisation.