WaterAid/UNICEF/WSUP launch new guide to make toilets better for women and girls

The requirements of women and girls are too often ignored in the planning and design of public toilets, leaving them unable to use the toilet where and when needed. 

A range of factors including menstruation, pregnancy and the menopause bring different needs and requirements for women that should be considered when designing and building public toilets. Of particular importance is access to water and soap for cleaning hands or the body and for washing out reusable sanitary products, as well as somewhere to throw away sanitary protection if needed and a hook for hanging clothes or putting belongings.

Women are also more likely to be helping children or older people to use the toilet. There should be a cubicle spacious enough for the caregiver and the person requiring care to be in the cubicle together and a baby changing station. Women are also at higher risk of harassment or attacks when public toilets are badly located, too dark or not secure.

Unless women and girls are able to count on being able to find a suitable toilet when they need it, their daily life is restricted and often they are unable to enjoy a full social and economic life. This is particularly true for women who are older or have a disability.

The Female-friendly Public and Community Toilets Guide, written jointly by WaterAid, UNICEF and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), discusses opportunities and solutions to address this problem. The guide was launched on 1 November, at the 2018 UNC Water and Health Conference.

In Bangladesh, WaterAid worked with city municipalities to increase the number and quality of public toilets after a 2011 study in Dhaka showed that the city had only 47 public toilet blocks serving around 7 million people. Three quarters of those blocks were not female-friendly or child-friendly, while more than 30 percent were in very unsafe locations.

The city municipalities committed to build 100 new public toilets. The new blocks have separate male and female sections, hand basins with soap, showers, safe drinking water, reliable water and electricity supplies, CCTV cameras and professional male and female caretakers.

The guide recommends consideration of six requirements for female-friendly toilets: safety and privacy; allowing for menstrual hygiene management; accessibility; affordability and availability; good maintenance and management; and meeting the additional requirements of caregivers.

The guide recommends that city authorities carry out city-wide assessments to identify gaps in the provision of toilets in public spaces and densely populated informal settlements. Those consultations must include women and girls to ensure that the right type of toilets are provided that will actually help women and girls as they go about their daily lives.

Most countries have their own standards for the number of individual public and community toilets required to serve men and women, with a higher number of toilets required for women than for men. In India, standards recommend provision of one public toilet for every 200 men or 100 women. The standard for Southeast Asia, set by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), recommends a minimum of one toilet per 550 women, one cubicle per 1,100 males.

Priya Nath, equality, inclusion and rights advisor, International Programme at WaterAid, said: 

“Sanitation is a human right, yet, women and girls often cannot go to the toilet when or where they need. This impacts on their freedom, their health and their ability participate in public life. The new guide provides practical steps for local authorities to address those barriers.

“Community and public toilets play an important role in extending access to decent sanitation, and thus help to address the global sanitation crisis. While designed for urban areas in developing countries, the ‘Female-friendly Public and Community Toilets Guide’ has global application, as women continue to suffer disproportionally worldwide from the lack of decent toilets.”

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