The Blog

Making Potties Pretty - World Toilet Day


I wrote the article below two years ago, when 'World Toilet Day' was in its infancy. Now, two years on, it is still as relevant as ever...

'How many times did you go to the toilet last week?' Ask that question to friends or strangers and I'm sure you would first receive a look of confusion, then a totally inaccurate answer. I tried to count my daily visits to the lavatory but failed miserably. It appeared after my fourth visit, I was unable to keep note of how many times I pulled the chain.

Why would you count how many times you unzipped your fly or pulled down your tights, I hear you ask. Going to the toilet is normality: something we don't think about. We just 'do.' And for another 4.5 billion people around the world, thoughts (or lack of) about the privy are the same.

But for the other 2.4 billion, access to a toilet is non-existent (unless you call defecating in public on open land or in a stream a toilet.). And this is what 'World Toilet Day' on the 19th November was about: raising awareness of this staggering figure and the scale of the global sanitation challenge.

Going to the toilet silently encompasses complex issues that one would not think to associate with such an action. How often do you think of gender equality, health rights, human rights or the economy when you are sitting on or standing above the lid? It is well documented that better sanitation improves health and thus can improve work output, in turn creating a more sustainable or higher income.

Although simplistic, this chain of events is vital to those trapped in poverty. A latrine, collecting or transporting human waste in an efficient manner and not contaminating domestic water supplies can dramatically reduce those diseases that cause serious harm to health, such as diarrhoea, which is the second most common cause of death in children after HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Feminising the toilet is another battle being fought. I'm not talking about making the potty pretty with pink fur covers and a sweetened air freshener in the bowl. I'm talking about equal access to a toilet for women. Can you imagine being out in public, needing to 'nip to the loo' and there being no ladies space? Or worse, there are free male urinals adjacent to a fee-paying public bathroom? The outcry!

Yet this is the reality in cities in India and injustices Indian women face on a daily basis. For young teenage girls in school hitting puberty and menstruating, it is a scary and embarrassing experience. With little privacy, questionable 'toilets' and lack of clean water, it has thought to be one of causes for early drop-out rates in education for girls.

More people in India have access to a mobile phone than a toilet. Six billion out of seven billion people in the world are mobile phone subscribers. So, statistically speaking, it would be easier to 'facetime' Norway in India than it would be to urinate.

An uncomfortable fact most would rather forget. The issues of basic sanitation and that of a toilet have only been touched upon here. Sanitation as a whole is highly complex yet highly important problem, as World Toilet Day recognizes.

Whichever word you choose to use: toilet, latrine, lavatory, the bog, the taboo of toilets and the dirty connotations associated have to change. If we want to tackle global sanitation and improve the health of millions we must wipe away inequity of access, flush away gender prejudices and embrace the toilet.

Before You Go