Feminism has become a big issue for Australians. Recently Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave a blistering speech on misogyny, which then went viral around the world. In the U.S Presidential election there were debates about abortion and rape.

In loo of proper sanitation… one third of the world's population uses toilets like this - without the paper. The problem is especially dangerous for women

Beyond Australia and the USA, did you know that something like one in three women in the developing world do not have access to a toilet? That is approximately 1.25 billion women and girls who lack access to safe sanitation leaving them exposed to the threat of violence.

I see many disturbing things related to extreme poverty in my job. One of these is that in Delhi, girls under the age of 10 have been raped while walking to a public toilet.

Richard Marles is Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and he was in India earlier this month, where he saw where our aid money is being spent while visiting an AusAID funded WaterAid project. He visited slums in Delhi where people are forced to defecate in the open, because they lack a toilet nearby.

Richard wrote about his experience on The Punch He wrote: ‘The hygiene implications of open defecation are obvious. Diarrhoeal disease is rampant. It is a major cause of death.”

But disease is not the biggest issue. Open defecation also means the fundamental loss of human dignity. For what is naturally an intensely private act, is simply not.

Adjoining this particular slum is a tree-filled bushland area. For most women in the community, their bodily urge is met by hanging on until the very middle of the night and then venturing into the dark to seek relief, despite the added risk of possible violent assault.’

Sanitation rights
One of the biggest untold tragedies in our world is the simple fact that 2.5 billion people still lack safe sanitation; somewhere to go to the toilet, wash their hands and get clean water. To tackle this sanitation crisis the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council recognised the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in 2010.

However, it is shameful that an astonishing 526 million women and girls still go to the toilet out in the open; imagine the indignity and fear for a woman going to the toilet, particularly during her menstruation, in public; often in full view of men and teenage boys with dark thoughts on their minds. This forces hundreds of millions of women and girls to wait until after dark or walk long distances just to go to the toilet, in the bush, where there isn’t one.

This problem and its solution is so clear, it is no surprise that politicians of all parties (and the independents) are looking at ways for Australia to better target our aid money, to fix it.

The solution is to work with women to improve the sanitary conditions in their community. Sanitation cuts the disease burden for a community, improves education because children are sick less often and miss less school, reduces health bills, and increases productivity.

Women are the key
Once women are fully informed and included in decision-making, they agitate for change. Local aid groups, the government and donor countries such as Australia can collaborate with these empowered groups and help build the facilities that are required.

Needless to say, men also benefit vastly when sanitation is improved. However, the point of distinction between the sexes is not that men do not suffer from unsafe, unsanitary conditions; it is women that bear a disproportionate burden, lack of dignity and fear of violence.

In cost-benefit terms, these investments in women; in toilets and taps and; in education are the most beneficial way to spend our aid dollar.

Consider the benefits in two of our own neighbouring countries. Using the available data, WaterAid estimates that in Papua New Guinea over 1.8 million women in PNG lack safe sanitation (55% of women) and this costs them an estimated 100 million hours per year, walking around to find somewhere safe and discrete to defecate.

Likewise, in Timor-Leste, 53% of women (over 295,000) lack proper, safe sanitation. As many as 35% of women do not even have an inadequate toilet to use and are forced to practice open defecation (the world average is 15%).

What Australia can do
All parties agree that sanitation is a cost-effective way to increase the impact of our aid spending. This can be pursued both at the national level, by fixing our aid priorities and through the international community.

I recognise that AusAID is doing a lot in terms of providing access to sanitation and reducing the levels of violence against women. However, currently, the Australian Government directs less than 1% of aid to sanitation. WaterAid is calling for a more fair share. Sanitation and water allocations within the aid budget need to be about $500 million per year with at least half of that earmarked for sanitation.

At the global level, Australia has a seat on the UN Security Council, which is the highest decision making forum in the family of nations. This is a good time for us to publically state our support for the Right to Water and Sanitation, as other Security Council states United Kingdom, China, and France have done in recent years.

Australian politicians are hearing the message, from their communities and from the experts. Local meetings have been held in seats held by all sides of politics, such as New England (Tony Windsor, Independent), the electoral bell-weather seat of Eden-Monaro (Mike Kelly, ALP) and Melbourne’s well-heeled Kooyong (Josh Frydenburg, Liberal). Some 15,000 people have been engaged through WaterAid’s Toilet Tour.

On World Toilet Day the message is that I want Australia to pledge to do all it can so that women no longer feel shame and fear risk of violence for the sake of access to a safe and private toilet.

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST

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    • ronny jonny says:

      06:07am | 19/11/12

      Sadly this issue lacks glamour and due to it’s somewhat icky nature won’t recieve any celebrity endorsment to raise awareness and get people behind the cause so it will just fade away and nothing will be done. A toilet just isn’t as photogenic as a starving child.
      It’s relativley simple, practical things like making clean water and toilets available that can do the most for people in the third world but because this type of solution lacks razzamataz it’s hard to get anything done. Diarreha kills more kids than AIDS and starvation combined and is so easily and cheaply treatable that it’s ridiculous but we never see concerts or benefits held to raise money for the purchase of rehydration salts. Provision of sanitation and hygiene will do more for third world people than building schools and bridges. There was a fellow on the Inventors I think it was on the ABC who had come up with a small, cheap septic tank system that all you had to do was dig a bit of a hole and chuck it in and away you go. How about shipping a few million of those out? Plenty of hole diggers in the third world.

    • Suzanne says:

      07:40am | 19/11/12

      I have spent a lot of time in India, the blame is squared on the corrupt and disorganisd Government.  No need t discuss further.  They need a coup, as to many corrupt and disorganised regimes in poorer countries

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      10:02am | 19/11/12

      ...and most coups which replace corrupt & disorganised regimes in poorer countries are replaced by new & every bit as corrupt & disorganised regimes!
      What we need to do is to ensure that All the AId we give to other countries is used for it’s intended purpose. That means doing what we are told the Chinese now do with the Aid they are giving.
      They, it is reported, demand (& get) the right to supervise their entire Aid Programme from start to finish. They hold onto the money. They pay the workers. They supervise the work from start to finish .
      What do we do? We agree to give Aid &, for the most part, simply hand over the cash - much of which ends up in the bank accounts of corrupt local officials. That has to stop. We have to control the entire Aid Programme from start to completion using the local work-force to build that Sewerage System, to create Clean water supplies, to install those toilets & washing facilities . If we are paying the we have the right to see that the job is done.
      If a country won’t agree to a donor country supervising every project they are paying for then the donor country simply takes their money to another country which will.

    • X says:

      07:43am | 19/11/12

      Alex Trebek: For $800, this chemical dye is found in over 95% of all cosmetic products.

      Peter: [buzzes] Diarrhea. [audience laughs] What? Oh, oh, oh, sorry, sorry. What is diarrhea?

    • Gregg says:

      07:44am | 19/11/12

      ” Diarrhoeal disease is rampant. It is a major cause of death.”

      But disease is not the biggest issue. Open defecation also means the fundamental loss of human dignity. For what is naturally an intensely private act, is simply not. “

      I would have thought that disease in being a rampant course of death is by far the biggest issue.

      Australia has a Toilets location web site - http://www.toiletmap.gov.au/ and many travellers may have made use of those smelly not so inviting drop toilets, checking for red-backs or whatever and batting the flies away during their visit or otherwise hanging on until the next servo or McDonalds or whatever.

      Australia as a nation has only been settled by caucasians and others for a bit past two hundred years, our aboriginal peoples also happy enough it would seem to have been using the outdoors, but it does beg the question Adam when you do ask what Australia should be doing for the 2.5B or whatever peoples and surely governments in many countries do need to get off their collective backsides and say we do not need further charity for we will have our own people starting to use picks and shovels and collectively it will be another skill set they can establish to build toilets.

      Is it not the old chestnut of do you give a fish or teach a person how to fish.

    • egaliterean says:

      07:46am | 19/11/12

      Lets all go to the Sultans and Sheiks of Dubai and Qatar and demand they give there gold toilets to the developing world!!!

    • Anubis says:

      09:04am | 19/11/12

      “Beyond Australia and the USA, did you know that something like one in three women in the developing world do not have access to a toilet? That is approximately 1.25 billion women and girls who lack access to safe sanitation leaving them exposed to the threat of violence.”

      Would that also mean that one in three men in the developing world ALSO do not have access to a toilet?  Or is too simplistic and an antithesis to the feminist line being pushed?  Wouldn’t it be more efficient to say that 2 out of every three people in the developing world do not have access to a toilet?

    • ronny jonny says:

      09:23am | 19/11/12

      There is a significant difference in the way men and women urinate, and the vulnerabilty experienced during the act. Add to that the fact that women, in general, are preyed upon by perverted men more than men by perverted women and surely you can see why this is a more serious issue for women?

    • Philosopher says:

      09:45am | 19/11/12

      Anubis, from the Global Press Institute, ‘New Delhi has only 132 public toilets for women, while men have 1,534, according to a 2009 report by the Centre for Civil Society, a nongovernmental research and educational organization devoted to improving citizens’ quality of life.’

      Don’t you absolutely hate it when facts get in the way of a nice, comfortable (albeit paranoid) world view? Please ignore my quote if it makes you feel less manly.

    • Colin says:

      09:46am | 19/11/12

      @ Anubis

      You push that barrow with even the slightest opportunity, don’t you..?

      I think that you just made up what you said the other day about women and their place in your life…With you finding any excuse to belittle or besmirch Women’s Rights, I doubt that you even have a clue about how to treat women in anything but a condescending way.

    • GKM says:

      09:59am | 19/11/12

      Actually in many rural areas in developing countries (including india, china, cambodia, and thailand) there are public toilet blocks but women are not allowed to use them. They are reserved solely for men and local women who try to use them face a public beating. Woman in those areas must go into the bush or wait till after dark to go in the street.

    • Anubis says:

      10:22am | 19/11/12

      @ Colin - Go away troll. Unlike Philospher who made a valid point you continue to ignore the comment and attack the person. BTW - the quote you attributed me with the other day was not made by me - if you go back and read that thread you will find it was made by another commenter/ I addressed that in a comment that I made on that thread but the Punch didn’t print. I have not “belittled or besmirched” women’s rights in my comments Colin. I have just pointed out where an article has been focused around women when it was not necessary in order to make the point of the article. The only barrow being pushed is by you and your blatant misandry.

      @ Philosopher. Details noted and I stand corrected. But why is it necessary to turn an article about disadvantage in the third world into a barrow for the feminist cause, I just don’t understand that.

    • Philosopher says:

      10:31am | 19/11/12

      Anubis, I wish more Punchers were as civil as you when presented with a difference of opinion or point of fact.

    • Colin says:

      10:46am | 19/11/12

      @ GKM s

      “Actually in many rural areas in developing countries ...there are public toilet blocks but women are not allowed to use them…”

      And that is exactly the type of behaviour worldwide that shows how down-trodden, repressed, and alienated so many women are. But, hey, WASP men in Western society - according to the poor dears themselves - are hard done by, aren’t they, so that’s all that matters isn’t it..? Never mind that women - en masse - are being treated vilely by their male counterparts…

    • Tubesteak says:

      11:38am | 19/11/12

      Anubis has toucheed upon a poignant issue in this situation. It’s not men vs women but the issue is poverty. Framing this as evil men vs good women is isolating people and divisive. That will get nothing done. What needs to happen is lift the living standards of these people by bringing in free market policies and industry into these areas. After time, these issues will be rendered moot as the people are educated and embrace equality of opportunity like we have in Australia. All people suffer in poverty conditions. It’s not about men or women, it’s about all humans. What is needed is the infrastructure of capitalism to change things.

    • Colin says:

      11:45am | 19/11/12

      @ Anubis

      Women are constantly and repeatedly denied access to everything from medical care to toilets right around the world, and your denying that fact and trying to say that men are so treated to is simply disingenuous.

      “@ Colin - Go away troll.”

      Heads up, Anubis; if there was absolutely no dissenting opinion on here amidst the sea of bigotted, anti-women posters on here, can you imagine how even MORE one-sided everything would be..?

      You can NOT have it all your own way, Anubis, and calling me a ‘Troll’ because I act as a foil to the majority skew here just doesn’t wash.

    • ByStealth says:

      11:48am | 19/11/12

      ‘However, the point of distinction between the sexes is not that men do not suffer ... ; it is women that bear a disproportionate burden’

      Textbook feminist argument.

      ‘imagine the indignity and fear for a woman going to the toilet, particularly during her menstruation, in public; often in full view of men and teenage boys with dark thoughts on their minds.’

      For added impact, you’ve managed to demonise men and boys here making your argument even more divisive. Men=bad, women=good (and victimised).

      You’ve turned an argument about sanitation in the third world into a gendered problem. We’ve seen similar re: domestic violence, sexual assault etc. Women suffer more so lets fix only the women’s side of the problem.

      In this case you’d push for funding for only building female public toilets (along with involving women in decision making to create influence for further agendas down the road).

      Why don’t we fix all of the problem because its a problem affecting everyone? Why do you feel the need to appeal to emotion and use ‘women in particular are suffering’ as your argument for change?

      I will tell you why. Our society is primed to place more value on women. We listen to complaints of suffering of women more than men because despite feminist arguments that the genders are equal we all feel that women require special treatment and protection.

      This article reeks of divisiveness and is one of the first volleys in the lead up to White Ribbon Day.

    • egg says:

      11:53am | 19/11/12

      @Anubis, “But why is it necessary to turn an article about disadvantage in the third world into a barrow for the feminist cause”

      ... it isn’t. It’s pointing it out that it’s a much bigger problem for women than it is for men - both because men have more toilets, and because women are more vulnerable in this situation.

      It’s not a feminist conspiracy. Men don’t need to be mentioned in every article. Just breathe.

    • Rossco says:

      12:03pm | 19/11/12

      Colin, why do you hate men so much?

    • Anubis says:

      12:09pm | 19/11/12

      @ Egg “Men don’t need to be mentioned in every article” and if you read my next post you will see that I basically said women don’t need to be mentioned in every article in order to get a point across. This article was basically about disadvantage in the third world. It is not necessary to make this a gender issue in order to get the point across.

    • Colin says:

      12:39pm | 19/11/12

      @  Rossco

      “Colin, why do you hate men so much?”

      I don’t.

      I just don’t like ‘men’ who willfully and insidiously try to undermine women at every turn. Their argument always seems to be about, “What about OUR rights..?” when, in fact, men have been (and continue to be) the most privileged people on the planet (especially WASPs in Western society).

    • Tubesteak says:

      01:08pm | 19/11/12

      “when, in fact, men have been (and continue to be) the most privileged people on the planet (especially WASPs in Western society)”

      Utterly and completely wrong and imbibes the logical fallacy of mistaking correlation with causation. Someone that constantly harps on about how intelligent “he” is wouldn’t make this mistake.

      The vast majority of homeless people are men.
      The vast majority of the victims of violence are men
      Men live shorter lives
      Men are more likely to die at work.

      Your statement falls foul of the logical fallacy of only looking at the top and coming to a conclusion about them and applying it to the rest of the people that share a common trait ie gender. It’s called the Apex Fallacy and was one of the fundamental mistakes made by feminism.

      The people at the top earned their way there. They did the right uni courses, got the right experience, got the right outcomes and fought their way to the top.

      Just because most of them are men does not mean you can say that men are advantaged.

    • Colin says:

      01:39pm | 19/11/12

      @ Tubesteak

      Yes, you go on telling yourself that, Tubesteak, if it gives you comfort. Of course, no matter how much you say something is true, it does not make it so.

      If you were capable of removing your ideological blinkers, you might just see that it is an obvious, self-evident tenet of the reality of this world that the majority of people who are wealthy, privileged, and in charge are MEN. It is that simple.

      And no matter how much you deny it, skew the figures, appeal to all the gods of illogical reasoning or misrepresentation, you only need to read just that little bit wider than the Zoo or Ralph to discover the Ultimate Truth… grin

    • ByStealth says:

      02:28pm | 19/11/12

      If the top percentage of the world’s elite are men, you’re still assuming an own-group preference. You are assuming that the world is run by elite apex men for ALL men’s benefit (eg patriarchy).

      Men do not have the same group preference bias that women have. They do not automatically take sides with their own gender against other groups, which should be self evident to you Colin as you’re an example of this.

      Both men and women are more likely to see women in a favourable light and assume that women are more likely to tell the truth than men. Both genders are more likely to act in women’s interest than men’s.

      Also, stop with the ad hominems if you want to be taken seriously.

    • Elizabeth1 says:

      05:51pm | 19/11/12

      I could find no evidence to support the argument that men and women hold a positive bias towards women.  I did find evidence to support a positive bias towards men and a negative bias exhibited by both men and women to women. I hope these links work.
      Female bias against female professors
      A double blind study:
      Male & female bias against female professor’s intelligence, capability and willingness to mentor

      white males are often treated better by their colleagues (Aquino & Bommer, 2003; Fitzgerald, Gelfand & Drasgow, 1995)

    • Rambo says:

      09:41am | 19/11/12

      With india’s ever increasing population, problems like this will just get worse and worse. Even by installing millions and millions of toilets what do you do with the effluent? The disease will just be moved down to the closest river and poison that.
      Doing something about population size and growth needs to be addressed, it always seems to be the issue that is never discussed.

    • marley says:

      12:07pm | 19/11/12

      @Rambo - “Doing something about population size and growth needs to be addressed, it always seems to be the issue that is never discussed. “

      Not true.  The fertility rate in India today is half what it was a generation ago.  Still too high, but far, far below rates in, for example Africa or even next-door Pakistan.  It’s around 2.8 now, I believe, which is where Australia was 30 years ago.  So, progress is being made….

    • Rambo says:

      01:05pm | 19/11/12

      Good to hear Marley it gives some hope for the planet. Population is something that probably concerns many people not just about india but the world population. All I ever hear is about population doubling every so many years and never any action or developments in reducing the population.

    • marley says:

      02:25pm | 19/11/12

      @Rambo - the problem is, of course, that the decline in birth rates isn’t happening everywhere (sub-Saharan Africa is a real problem) and that, even though it is dropping in Asia, the population is still quite young so, while they may be having fewer kids, they’re having them now, so yes, the population is doubling at shorter intervals.  That said, projections I’ve seen suggest the world’s population will peak in 2050 and then start to decline.  Let’s hope so.

    • Warwick says:

      10:10am | 19/11/12

      In India, the caste system seems to be as strong as ever. The folk who run the country are upper cast folk who couldn’t care less that lower caste people have no toilets; that’s the way things ought to be.
      As much as we might dislike the authoritarian nature of Chinese communism, it is miles ahead of traditional Indian culture which classifies people according to caste and then regards the lower classes as unworthy of consideration. As a side note, the contempt that Indian upper castes have for the lower, and the subsequent debauching of their cities and towns, shows that not all cultures are equal; the cultures of India are inferior.

    • Matthew Cheyne says:

      10:43am | 19/11/12

      Maybe if the Indian government didn’t blow an estimated $30 billion US dollars worth of revenue through a mobile phone spectrum auction in the last 18 months, didn’t spend money on nukes and didn’t have a space program, not only would there be enough toilets to go round for everybody of every walk of life regardless of so called caste, there would be enough food, housing and education for the poor of India.

      The problem as it’s been said in comments above mine is that of a thoroughly incompetent and corrupt government that has its priorities all wrong.

      The solution is for the world community to shun this government and put conditions onto any foreign aid that it gives to India until these practices change and/or the government itself changes in India.

      I fear though that change may only come by force in India at the grassroots level and that may not be good for the Indian people and the world community as a whole.

    • Aussie Wazza says:

      10:54am | 19/11/12

      Another in the ‘too hard’ basket.

      I have discussed this problem in a number of places and the general response is the impossibility, cost, and in cities, the disruption while the work is carried out.

      Talking with young women in Australia regards marriage and when, the most often response these days is ‘We won’t be able to marry for about three years. We can’t afford a house (thinks: 4 bedrooms and a pool) but are saving hard.’

      Its all or nothing thinking.

      Relates to dunny problem: ‘To sewer the town will cost a grillion dollars which is beyond our budget.

      But find someone changing a tyre in most third world places I have visited and you will find a crowd of twenty or more (With nothing better to do) watching on. But none of them would think of moving the dead and rotting dog in the gutter right beside them.

      Many rural families in Australia, especially where there is a water shortage, use ‘long drop’ toilets. Dig a hole and place the toilet on top. Hole fills (to a point), dig another hole and move the dunny. Many have opted for chemical toilets now.

      Big or small. Village or suburb or even street block. Start small and at the beginning. The ‘technology’ is generally available.

      Forget the ‘multy billion dollars to sewer THE CITY. Utilise the available (now wasted) labour to dig holes and build small toilet blocks and it’s almost free.

      Some money available, and water, then opt for (again cheap) septic tanks, or if both of these are a problem use (As is the case in some parts of even Sydney) a pump out tank.

      Here it’s ‘Waste not want not’. do as is done in some countries and spread it on the farm vegies.

    • Greg in Chengdu says:

      11:24am | 19/11/12

      “:Feminism has become a big issue for Australians”
      I’m sorry but what has been done for feminism in Australia despite using it as an excuse for Julia to avoid criticism?
      Makes me laugh when people say Julia cares about feminism. And it makes me despair that people are so stupid as to actually believe she is some champion for the cause.
      On Julias trip to Afganistan where women have less rights than any other country in the world did Julia stand up for womens rights? No she was looking for justification to withdraw our troops and abandon those women so she could save some money.
      And recently in India did she even mention womens rights? Wake up people Julia is no Feminist Champion but a oportunist using it to her advantage to silence criticism!

    • Gabby Cabbie says:

      11:42am | 19/11/12

      Matthaw Cheyne is correct but, we supply the money for one thing and their government allocation for that will be diverted to what the Bozos at the top want.

      It’s like feeding another mans child so he can afford cigarettes or bullets.

      Anyway perhaps the first step would be to teach them how to use and maintain (clean) a toilet.

      Checking out the taxi rank feeder toilets at an airport will demonstrate that these abilities for many new comer taxi drivers are sadly lacking.

      Sort of like ‘Treat it like it’s your home’.

    • Bruno says:

      11:52am | 19/11/12

      All the money in the world in aid is offset by the rape and exploitation of their lands and labour. Hears an idea. Leave them alone and let them build their societies at their own speed. I mean their experiences have caused them to go out and buy nukes before effective sewerage treatment. Mind your business and leave them alone.

    • marley says:

      12:10pm | 19/11/12

      They buy nukes because they’ve been invaded three times by Pakistan.  What do you expect them to do? Ignore the threat?

    • edenland says:

      01:52pm | 19/11/12

      I’m a blogger, in India right now for ten days while I blog for World Vision. The toilet situation has me reeling. Thank you for writing this piece ... I had no idea about the attacks on women and girl when they go to the toilet.

      I’ve been full of judgement about seeing people squatting on the side of the road, now i understand a bit more.


    • Helen of Troy says:

      04:09pm | 19/11/12

      Am not sure why population mass is ever brought up in these arguments. New York City has a higher population density than Bangladesh for example…it’s not about population but about government.


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