Potty talk

We Can’t Wait for World Toilet Day

World Toilet Day might inspire snickers and puns among North Americans but straight talk about toilet habits is serious business in many communities around the world.

Instructions painted on a school latrine at Bidima, Northern Ghana, don't mince words.

Instructions painted on a school latrine at Bidima, Northern Ghana, don’t mince words.

World Toilet Day, established formally by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, is a day to take action and raise awareness about the human right to water and sanitation – and the 2.5 billion people around the world who continue to suffer the ill effects of lack of access to them.

The consequences to girls and women when they have no toilet that offers privacy are particularly serious. In CFTC’s communities, such as Bidima, Ghana pictured above, installing clean, private, easily-accessible and gender-segregated latrines in schools is a priority item in our Theory of Change–creating not just greater safety and comfort for girls (and boys too), better hygiene and health, but also improving educational outcomes.

Once facilities are installed, the importance of proper toilet habits and hand-washing with soap is reinforced in the school’s curriculum. The approach to hygiene and toilet education may look a little ‘earthy’ to North American eyes, but number one, it’s not considered particularly profane here; and number two, it works.

Despite the puns (and no, we really can’t resist them!), the theme of World Toilet Day 2014 is equality and dignity. This year’s “We Can’t Wait” campaign underscores the urgency and is intended to inspire action to end open defecation and emphasize how access to improved sanitation facilities leads to a reduction in assault and violence on women and girls.

Having to defecate openly infringes on human safety and dignity, and women and girls in particular risk rape and abuse as they wait until night falls because they lack of access to a toilet that offers privacy.

Even where toilets do exist, they generally remain inadequate for populations with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly, and women and girls requiring facilities to manage menstrual hygiene. That is why latrines are so critical to be built and maintained near to schools. Where they exist, the drop-out rate for girls at puberty declines.

So whether we approach the issue with cheeky puns or take a more serious tone, improving children’s access to clean, safe water and proper hygiene facilities has both immediate and long-term benefits. A little potty talk is not just acceptable, it’s imperative.