Today is World Toilet Day: A fact that seems to amuse a lot of people. Living in North American, it can be pretty easy to take toilets and running water for granted. Bathrooms have become such an integrated part of our daily lives and routines, it can be hard to imagine not having regular access to a toilet. Perhaps on a camping trip, or in a particularly deserted area of town one might be inconvenienced temporarily, but on the whole most of us have a reasonable expectation of having access. As such, it might come as a shock to learn that 1 in 3 people in the world, do not have safe and adequate access to toilets or running water.
Running water and the flushable toilet were not just breakthroughs in convenience and comfort. The development of the toilet meant serious progress in overall public health.
In countries without adequate access to toilets, one of the leading causes of mortality among people, including children, is from diarrhea. Waterborne illnesses are more prevalent in these places, as are the incidence of parasites. People are dying of diseases that have largely become nothing more than nuisances in the developed world.
What the 1 in 3 figure fails to take into account are the additional numbers of people, in the developed world, who cannot count on consistent safe access to bathrooms. In the last several months we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of bathroom legislations aimed at preventing trans people, and in particular trans women, from being able to use restrooms in public. Even in places without these bigoted laws, bathrooms manage to be sources of anxiety and potential violence for many trans women.
For many disabled people, bathroom access can be essential due, for example, to digestive issues. In many cases, however, access can be limited. Bathrooms are frequently located in inaccessible places like at the top of bottom of a set of stairs. People who require assistance may find themselves prevented from receiving such care from their attendants by the same laws that target trans people. In other cases, various disabilities are forced to share one accessible stall.
Homeless people as well, face difficulties with regular bathroom access. Many businesses in places where homeless people are more likely to congregate, put barriers in place to keep them from using the restrooms. With active restrictions in place, it creates a feedback loop where homeless people are forced to use public spaces as restrooms, which leads to the stereotype of them being dirty, which in turn is used as an excuse to restrict their access to public restrooms.
It can be easy to take something like bathrooms and toilets for granted, but they are essential. Access to safe and clean restrooms should be considered a right. Providing access to people who don’t have it should be a more visible priority. If nothing else, we should take a moment on World Toilet Day to appreciate how important bathroom access really is.