4 Reasons Why Inadequate Sanitation and Water Access is a Feminist Climate Issue.

Social Justice Jun 12, 2019

For people who menstruate, access to sanitation; a toilet, proper disposal of waste and clean water, are essential to their health, safety, and future.

Why is Sanitation Important?

According to WHO, 2.6 billion people don't have access to basic sanitation. This means clean water, toilets, cleaning facilities and adequate drainage of waste. Let's be clear here, access to clean water and sanitation are identified as basic human rights. Lack of access is detrimental to the health of people who live in poverty, and is linked to issues with water contamination, malnutrition, and the transmission of diarrhoeal, intestinal and other water-borne diseases. Every year nearly 850,000 people die as a result of lack of sanitation and clean water. Many of these deaths can be attributed to children under 5.

2.6 billion don't have access to sanitation
Photo by Jordan Opel on Unsplash

Every time we use a toilet, every time we wash our hands, every time we drink clean water, we are exercising a human right that we are privileged to have. Sanitation, clean water, and adequate waste removal provide a solution that reduces disease, death, and poverty.

As climate change accelerates across the globe, the injustices against human rights will worsen, widening the gap between the rich and poor. Those without money won't be able to flee from climate change. They'll be stuck in places that are experiencing extreme weather conditions. These conditions will have knock-on effects on water via drought and flooding. Either water will be scarce, or water facilities that do exist may become unusable.

Sanitation Disproportionately Affects Women

Women in poverty are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to sanitation in four key areas. Each of these results in increased risks to their health, safety and future.

1. Productivity

  • Responsibility to keep any sanitation facilities clean (if they exist) often falls to women. They dispose of waste and dirty water, usually without protective clothing and/or equipment.
  • Women are responsible for the care of children and the elderly, who are at higher risk of becoming sick when exposed to poor sanitation.

2. Health

  • Women are exposed to more pathogens than men, due to cleaning and caregiving responsibilities.  This increased exposure increases the risk of sickness.
  • Using unclean or inadequate facilities carries an increased risk of UTI's for women and girls.
  • Cultural norms of modesty result in women avoiding bladder and bowl relief until night time, causing dehydration, psychological stress, UTI's, constipation and gastric disorders.

3. Education and Independence

Children at school, especially girls, need safe water and sanitation
Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash

4. Violence

  • Women risk physical and sexual violence due to a lack of access to sanitation and/or reliance on public sanitation.
  • “Women’s experience of not having access to toilets is different from men’s, and it adds to the [water] problem significantly. One of the most fundamental issues is that women are at risk in places where open defecation is the norm,” - Professor Cynthia Mitchell from UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures

Creating safe sanitation, and separate facilitates improves the lives of all, but has a significantly higher impact on women and girls, boosting safety and school attendance.

Improving Sanitation

Nonprofits are incredibly important for implementing and sustaining sanitation facilities. Donations and/or volunteering enable these organizations to keep functioning. However, you can also look out for products that commit a percentage of profits to aid this cause.

Access to water
4.5 Billion have no toilet at home

As always, thanks for reading.
Chelsea ✌️🐌


Activist and organizer with Greenpeace Vancouver. Writes about climate and social justice, feminism, greenwashing, and fossil fuel fuckery.

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