World Toilet Day

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.

World Toilet Day

2 thoughts on “World Toilet Day

  1. 1

    This article suddenly reminded me of an event in General Romeo Dallaire’s memoirs of the Rwandan genocide. During the course of the genocide, his meagre forces in Kigali were largely helpless to stop anything, but they were able to set up a massive refugee shelter at the soccer stadium.
    Within his force, he had a contingent of Bangladeshi troops that he generally considered worthless. They were poorly trained, poorly equipped, and badly led. But the moment the word went out that refugees were coming, the Bangladeshi troops raced out onto the soccer field and began digging latrines like their lives depended on it. At first Dallaire was amused since he’d never seen the troops act on their own initiative before (they’d started working without receiving orders from their officers even), and every latrine was textbook perfect: proper depth, proper spacing, segregated area for females, etc… But when the stadium was flooded by over 25,000 people he suddenly understood.
    Twenty five thousand people, and within 24 hours every one of them was going to have at least one bowel movement. The ones that were sick and stressed were having many. The Bangladeshi troops had dug latrines like their lives depended on it because they did. Although they didn’t accomplish much else in the mission before being evacuated by their government, Dallaire credited their quick thinking with saving hundreds of lives from dysentery and cholera.

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