Functioning toilet system a must for female safety

Women forced to walk long distances more vulnerable. Functioning toilet system a must for female safety.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the toilet as “a fixture that consists usually of a water flushed bowl and seat and is used for defecation and urination”. While this definition captures the mechanics associated with a toilet, it neglects what one may consider the rather “tacit” functions of the toilet. To give an idea, in addition to its tangible purpose, the toilet is also a space where we pause to reflect on self and on environment, We also make big or small decisions, laugh or cry in secret, and more. Those transient minutes of privacy afford us intimacy and vulnerability, regardless of the location. In essence, toilets are not mere facilities of relief, they are, literally and metaphorical ly, spaces of dignity. In like manner, when we take a brief trip down South African and global history, we witness toilets also symbolising strong political standpoints. From colonial archives we learn that toilets, among other facilities, were used to enforce racial and social discrimination by segregationist regimes, wherein citizens were allocated separate toilets in line with white supremacist values. Alas, sanitation challenges across race and class did not suddenly dematerialise at the dawn of democracy, as was the case with other setbacks afflicting our community. As I pen this, toilets remain one of the emblems of inequality, delicately dividing the haves from the have nots. It is thus no surprise that a recent study by the South African Human Rights Commission SAHRC revealed that ap proximately 11% of South African households lacked proper toilet systems, the bulk of these being in the rural regions of KwaZulu Natal, North West and the Eastern Cape. Evidently, the toilet denotes the extent of social and eco nomic inclusion in a society. While race and class remain a determinant of access, research reveals that women and girls bear the biggest brunt when dignified sanitation is denied a people. In 2017, WaterAid reported in the “State of The World’s Toilets” publication that one in three females in the world were without access to adequate sanitation. In areas where such a reality is immediate, women are forced to walk long distances to remote areas to relieve themselves, a circumstance which subjects them to harassment and or probable sexual abuse, especially after dark. The report also says this threat to women’s bodies caused by lack of safe sanitation is mainly prevalent in slums, rural regions, refugee camps and peri urban settings, confirming that the depriva ‘ Toilets remain one of the emblems of inequality, delicately dividing the haves from the have notion of basic resources amplifies the vulnerabilities of wo men. To address the scourge of violence against women and girls, governments and stake holders involved in sanitation design and implementation have a responsibility to prioritise toilet facilities which enhance the safety of women and girls. In the South African con text, efforts toward designing women friendly sanitation ought to be within the Nation al Water Resource Strategy NWRS2 framework, which promotes planning which elevates conservation of the water resource. Needless to say, the chronic increase in drought levels in the country indicates that the traditional toilet as we know it, which uses an excessive amount of water per flush, is no longer a viable solution. To rub salt in the wound, the World-Wide Fund projects for SA a 17% water deficit by 2030, which clearly suggests that sanitation infrastructure must also be water friendly, us ing water sparingly, if at all. This of course calls for radical designing wherein innovation takes centre stage, aka “reinventing the toilet”, as sanitation experts would argue. In this respect, the Water Research Commission WRC and partners have invested in accelerating the development of innovative next generation sanitation solutions which use very little or no water at all. These include the Arumloo toilet, a collaborative effort between Isidima Design and Development, the Water Technologies Demonstration Programme WADER , the Global Cleantech Innovation Programme GCIP and the WRC. The patented toilet system, whose shape is derived from nature’s Arum Lily to enable efficient vortex flow through the toilet bowl, uses less than two litres of water per flush and can be retrofitted in existing buildings and installed in new buildings and community settings. An additional innovative solution is the EcoSan Waterless Toilet System which requires zero water to function. The design is built with a conveyor which rotates each time the lid is lifted, allowing human excrement to fall into a reusable collection bag where it is dried into a compost like material for use as either fertiliser or biofuel. Moreover, the Lusec Sanitation Solution is an alternative waterless sanitation solution with a built-in mechanism to inactivate all pathogens in hu man effluent and recycle this into fertiliser. Various other designs of a similar and varied nature exist in the WRC’s diverse innovations database. For the South African government to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs set by the United Nations in which countries have vowed, among other objectives, to pursue gender equality and ensure equitable access to adequate basic services for all by 2030, the implementation of an innovative women friendly toilet infrastructure in unserved areas is indispensable. In so doing, the inherent threat of gender-based violence coupled with lack of safe sanitation will be curbed, and, by extension gender equality will be advanced. Thembela Ntiemeza is the technology transfer officer at the Water Research Commission and writes in her personal capacity.

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