Sanitation

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.

Road to Jholunge

Update from the Field

Namaste from Nepal! To say the least our first few months back, have been eye opening. We have spent some time connecting with local NGOs, district public officials and learning about the current WASH situation. While scoping out various districts, we connected with local NGO Educating Nepal and have had the opportunity to spend time in a small village located in the district of Sindhupalchowk, named Jholunge (jho-loon-ge).

Nestled in the valley of Maghi Gaon, the village is home to some of the best fishermen in Nepal. Through a somewhat treacherous road, the village can be reached within 5 hours by local bus. However, as the current border blockage with India continues to make headlines, traveling has been quite the task especially with a lack of fuel and transportation.

Starting this December, Manavta will be building urine diversion toilets for three families and working alongside the community, students of Suryoda Primary School and artists from Kathmandu, to spread the good word about stopping open defecation. As many of you may know, Sindhupalchowk is also the epicenter of the earthquake and has been the site of much of the destruction that was witnessed in the media. Jholunge in total lost 25 members of their community and are currently rebuilding their homes, schools and lives. Their story is something I will come to learn while I spend the next few months living with them. We are so grateful to be able to work with this community and are equally heartfelt by the support our fans have shown us during the past few years leading up to this project. 

We are set to depart next week and I encourage you to keep an eye on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (links at the very bottom of the page) to learn more about the progress and the community we are working with. If you would like to get involved with our current operations you can connect with us on social media or at toilets@manavtaproject.org, we would love to hear from you!

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.

 

Beyond The Toilet

Beyond The Toilet

The 21st Canadian Conference on Global Health was held in Ottawa this past week. The hot topic was sanitation, with emphasis on collaborative health measures like maternal health and malnutrition. Toilets play a huge role in decreasing maternal mortality because expecting mothers will be less exposed to diseases anemia and diarrhea. When sanitation is available people learn the importance of hand washing, infant mortality can be decreased by more than 1/3. WASH workshops are crucial for anyone working in our industry.