Shit Disturber

Girls Matter

Universal History Archive/UIG via Reuters

Universal History Archive/UIG via Reuters

It all started in the year 1909. 

The brave women of New York city sparked a campaign for change, a fight against oppression and inequality, a fight that’s lasted over a century. They’ve paved the way and are now joined by millions of women and allies around the world, fighting for the same thing – change. 

A lot has been done to elevate women’s rights since this first march. In 2018 alone, women in Saudi Arabia were finally granted the legal right to drive, voters in Ireland struck down a draconian ban on abortion, Iranian women watched the World Cup in a stadium alongside men for the first time in decades, and the #MeToo movement sparked a much-needed international conversation about harassment and sexual assault. Most recently, a Netflix documentary about Indian women fighting stigmas around menstruation, Period. End of Sentence, won the 2019 Oscar for Best Short Documentary. 

There is no doubt that progress has been made. It’s been slow but steady and significant.

Watch Charimaya Majhi, an inspiring woman and community leader from our project in Jholunge, speak on the importance of cleanliness for woman.

At Manavta, our mission is to create sustainable sanitation solutions for populations in need. In particular, today we highlight the girls in need. In Nepal, as many as 3 out of 10 girls report missing school because of their period, as access to safe and private latrine facilities are unfortunately few and far between. Skipping school once a month takes a huge toll on these children’s ability to intake and retain information, causing many girls in developing nations to eventually drop out. At Manavta, we’re changing that by continuing to raise awareness about the sanitation crisis, building toilets in high-need rural areas of Nepal, and educating along the way.

Malala Yousafzai said, “we cannot all succeed when half of us are held back”. This means that our collective success depends on equalizing the playing field.

 Ladies and allies, Happy International Women’s Day.
Keep fighting the good fight.
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It's World Toilet Day

Let me start by offering you all a Happy World Toilet Day! Happier, if you have access to a toilet… happiest if you’re reading this while sitting on your fully accessible toilet.

I’ll begin by paying my respects:

World Toilet Day is about inspiring action to tackle the global sanitation crisis. 

The toilet, dubbed by The Economist Magazine as the world’s most useful invention, has saved billions of people from death and disease. Despite this, 892 million people are still subject to open defecation and the diseases that come with it. I say subject to because open defecation is not a choice that populations in countries such as India, Nepal and Kenya can make. Millions of people are forcefully subjected to live a life of poor sanitation and hygiene, simply due to lack of resources. Thankfully, organizations such as UNICEF, the UN and WHO are tackling this crisis with initiatives such as WASH to ensure that everyone has access to a toilet by the year 2030. Achieving this goal is essential to eradicating poverty, thereby making this world a safer, cleaner and happier place to live. 

Enter Manavta…

For those we haven’t had the pleasure to meet, we’re Manavta, a non-profit organization that builds sanitation facilities at rural schools in Nepal. Our name, Manavta, means Humanity. Our journey began when we fell in love with Nepal and its people. We did our research and realized that more than half of the population doesn’t have access to a toilet. Even more disconcerting is that the lack of sanitation facilities in rural communities forces girls who start menstruating, to abandon educational opportunities, often leaving them trapped in a cycle of poverty. We’ve joined forces with fellow #ShitDisturbers and are looking to change the world, one toilet at a time. Through sustainable and innovative sanitation systems, we are not only looking to save the planet but humanity along with it. Our philosophy is to educate and empower the communities affected by this crisis so that together, we can help millions enjoy the same freedoms that we do.

For those of you enjoying this read on the toilet, remain seated a little while longer to spread this shit.

Are Toilets a Human Right?

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 64/292, which “Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”.

Does that make toilets a human right?  

The concept of a right to sanitation is concerned with its necessity in order to realize the other human rights, like those included in this list (e.g. health, nutrition, dignity and an adequate standard of living). The UN High Commissioner for Refugees emphasizes that adequate sanitation is necessary for maintaining access to clean water, which is critical to the rights to quality of life and health.

Making sanitation a human right requires that it apply universally (i.e. to everyone without discrimination). This equality is especially important for women, as menstruating women are stigmatised in many cultural practices.

For instance, the rural Nepali practice of chaupadi requires that "impure" menstruating women remove themselves from contact with other people. They are often forced to stay in sheds outside the house, or in other unclean environments, which often expose women to the elements. If sanitation is formally acknowledged as a human right, it would supersede cultural norms that guarantee the equal humanity of all people – a right applies to everyone, always, even when they’re menstruating.

In fact, the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Council also recently reaffirmed the human right to drinking water and sanitation with a specific focus on menstruation. It notes that women and girls’ inequality can be worsened by inadequate menstrual hygiene.

This Human Rights Council resolution and its 2010 resolution, which was adopted shortly after the General Assembly’s resolution mentioned above, indicate that States have the primary responsibility for ensuring realisation of these rights. Nepal’s interim constitution is fairly progressive in recognising the right to sanitation. Article 16 on the Right Regarding Environment and Health includes the statement that “Every person shall have the right to live in clean environment,” which includes sanitation and hygiene.  

Of course, moving from recognising to implementing a right isn’t the easiest step. It's worth noting that being a right does not obligate States to provide toilets. Infrastructure is critical to realising adequate sanitation (and large scale infrastructure requires State or major communal action), but the right doesn’t actually require toilets for all. Recognition of sanitation as a right focuses on the need for environmental hygiene to achieve health and an adequate standard of living.

Rather than mandating toilets, the right to sanitation obligates States in ensuring that there is an environment conducive to realising sanitation services that are available, acceptable, accessible, affordable and of sufficient quality, as noted by Catarina de Albuquerque, the previous Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation. That doesn’t require a flush toilet in all circumstances but may require hardware or infrastructure of some type, although de Albuquerque also makes clear that individuals are expected to contribute to realising this right. States are obligated to enable this right only if limiting factors (like poverty) prevent people from achieving this standard on their own. Just as a side note – Manavta’s toilets aren’t your conventional flush toilets anyway!

So if toilets aren’t a right, what does a rights-based perspective bring to the issue?

It’s a call to action. It provides a legal framework that allows people to demand change, especially marginalized groups – rights are for everyone, not just the privileged. In Nepal, marginalized individuals include women and rural communities, populations that have been a focus of Manavta’s work.

Some groups in Nepal have started demanding, and achieving sanitation services and have used the language and obligation of human rights to do so. While States aren’t obligated to provide toilets, the language of rights allows prioritisation of sanitation services like water and wastewater connections. There is still significant progress to be made, and plenty of community-level work to be done. The right to sanitation is far from being realised in Nepal, which is why Manavta and other like-minded organisations continue to use toilets to lay the groundwork for health, dignity and an adequate standard of living.

 

The ‘H’ in WASH

Having a place to poo is important. However, behaviour surrounding toilet activities, particularly hand washing, can be just as significant as having a toilet to begin with.

The WASH sector (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) often focuses on the hardware of toilets, pipes and drains, but access to hardware isn’t everything. The ‘H’ is a key part of improving health through WASH, because without hand washing people will quite literally continue eating shit. Fecal matter travels easily to hands after defecation and, without hand washing, can then travel easily to food or other surfaces.

The story by stats

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 gram of poo (think the weight of a paperclip) can contain 1 trillion (1,000,000,000) germs. Hand washing can prevent spreading those germs and decrease illness: evidence shows that proper hand washing can reduce incidence of diarrhea by 30%. With 500,000 children dying each year from diarrhea, related to poor quality water and sanitation (WaterAid, n.d.), hand washing (with soap!) is a simple step for reducing those deaths.

Hand washing can also contribute to reducing children’s absence from school by decreasing the amount of time they’re sick. Programs that promote hand washing, provide soap and put in place peer hand washing champions have been shown to lead to 54% fewer days of school absence. And that sickness isn’t limited to diarrhea – other health issues, like respiratory illness, skin infections, and intestinal worm infections, can also be decreased with hand washing.

Taking action

Of course, knowing about the risks of dirty hands and actually washing them isn’t the same thing.  Behavior change is a huge part of preventative health, and it’s often the most difficult step to implement. Just ask any smoker or chocoholic. That’s why Manavta’s engaging educational programs, which encourage positive hygiene-related behavior change among students, are a key part of what we do.  

So next time you finish up your daily constitutional or hang out with your pet chicken, don't forget to wash your hands before you make food or hold hands with that special someone!

Ranting about Gender

Ranting about Gender

News from the subcontinent last week focused on the rat poison found in drugs administered to women following a group sterilization procedure in Chhattisgarh, India. While concern has rightfully been raised regarding the quality of pharmaceuticals in India, another issue within this story seems to have raised few eyebrows – why are the women being sterilized?...