UNICEF calls for sanitation access for one billion women, girls

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A high ranking United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official has pleaded to the international community to help more than one billion women and girls across the world who rely on dark nights and quiet moments to relieve themselves because they “do not have access to sanitation.”

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Right now, there are “2.5 billion people globally that do not have access to sanitation,” Theresa Dooley, UNICEF senior advisor of sanitation and hygiene, told Xinhua recently.

The UNICEF advisor estimated that “more than half of these are likely to be women and girls.”

“Defecating in the open is not as easy for a woman as it is for a man,” Dooley said. “Quite often women remain what we call ‘prisoners of darkness’ so they have to wait until nightfall and go out in the open under the cover of darkness.”

This “often causes them long-term health problems never mind the inconvenience,” she said.

A few examples of “related health issues” include young girls suffering from diarrhea and other illnesses like worm infestations.

Even worse, aside from long-term health problems and inconvenience, women and girls also face risks relating to their safety and security. More specifically, they could become victims of rape and sexual harassment while openly defecating.

“There is a whole range of issues for women and girls from dignity, security and health impact. Even just the whole social element of having more time if you have a convenient toilet is very much important for women and girls,” said the UNICEF official.

Between the male and female gender, women and girls have the most to gain and lose when it comes to the utilization of proper sanitation techniques across the world.

Currently, UNICEF is changing its global sanitation approach so that more women and girls will likely benefit.”Instead of focusing on individual households we are now going for what we call total sanitation. This process includes educating a community about the importance of sanitation,” said Dooley, adding that flies know no boundaries.

UNICEF works with entire communities to change their behavior. “It is really, really important that we go for the total elimination of open defecation and ensuring that everybody in the entire community has a toilet or a safe place to defecate so that we are containing feces and we are not allowing infections to spread,” she said.

“It’s a question about changing societal norms around this, changing societal expectations around it, so that you expect me to have a toilet and I expect you to have a toilet and in that way we all change together as individuals,” Dooley said, noting that the changes equal “huge benefits for girls and women. The first one being freedom.”

“Freedom to be able to use a toilet whenever you want throughout the day, because you have a toilet within your household or around the household,” she said.

More importantly, “you do not have to wait until night to fall or until you get a private time and go really far away to relieve yourself. That is the first thing,” she stressed. PNA

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