The story of two teenage girls raped and murdered in India this spring while looking for a discreet place to relieve themselves outdoors made headlines around the world. Sadly, their situation is far from unique. Half a billion women and girls - 15% of females worldwide - are forced to do this every day simply because they do not have access to a toilet. This crisis risks women's health, and threatens their safety. The new Indian government was moved to act following the tragedy of the two Dalit girls in Uttar Pradesh, pledging zero tolerance for acts of violence against women. Their statement is welcome. However, protecting women from harassment and attack will not happen overnight.
This month, you might see two young girls pictured on the side of London's buses, each hauling a jerry can of water that is more than half their weight. Some 748 million people around the world do not have access to safe water. That is one person in 10. It is nearly always up to girls and women to hike treacherous, winding paths to fetch water for their families, and carry that heavy burden home again.
Traces of cocaine in our tap water, screamed recent newspaper headlines in the UK. It's alarming, despite reassurances that these are miniscule amounts that pose no risk. But imagine the headlines were about deadly pathogens like E. coli or cholera, and that even these miniscule amounts could harm adults and kill children.
If you have any doubt as to why we think the UK's Department for International Development should prioritise disability, look no further than the situation of Esther Cheelo. Blind, elderly and with difficulty walking, Esther has for years relied upon a child to walk her into the scrubland near her home in Zambia to find a place to relieve herself, a humiliating and sometimes dangerous experience...
A spate of brutal attacks on young women in India's urban centres, most recently a young woman in Calcutta who died after being gang-raped and set on fire, have drawn world attention. But thousands of other women are preyed upon at vulnerable moments, whether it's riding a bus, walking alone or, in the case of girls like Bhawna, looking for a place to relieve themselves.
Imagine you need to use the loo. Really, right now, you desperately need a loo. Now imagine you're in Uganda, one of the poorest countries on the planet. Now imagine you're in Uganda and you don't have the use of your legs. You don't have a proper wheelchair to get around with either - you use a hand-pedal bike, creaky and rusty.
Across the world, 1 in 3 women risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. That's 1.25 billion women - daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers. Facing each day without access to this basic necessity is not just an inconvenience; it impacts on all aspects of life, and it is women and girls who suffer the most. Having nowhere safe to go to the toilet also means an increased risk of shame, harassment and even violence for women and girls when they are forced to go out in search of a private place to go to the toilet.
The key theme at this year's Stockholm World Water Week is water and food security: how do we meet the ever developing needs of a growing population with an increasing demand for resources?