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.
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.
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Last Thursday, I visited a slum in Vasant Kunj, on the south-side of New Delhi, to see a water project which is being supported by AusAID, Australia’s overseas aid agency.
To see taps running when we turn them on is a basic reality in Australia which we rightly take for granted. Yet, in a community where this is far from a reality, it is astounding to see how profoundly water affects every aspect of life.
In the slums of Vasant Kunj, and across many large cities, meeting the need for water is fulfilled by a daily government water truck which delivers free water to the slum community.
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Australians do not need to be told that today is World Water Day to remember that water is both a giver and taker of life. This is the driest populated continent and we know well the impact of both floods and droughts.
But how many people are aware that billions of people across the world still lack access to a hygienic toilet, a tap and soap? Or that the failure to provide sanitation and safe drinking water causes about 4000 children to die every day?
The preventable diseases caused by poor sanitation cause more child deaths than malaria, measles and HIV/AIDS combined. Almost one in three people live in unsanitary conditions.
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Sometimes we need to create a big stink to change people’s minds. I’d like to create a Big Stink.
We forget the lessons of history at our peril.
In the late 19th century it took the stench of raw sewage in our cities to convince politicians to pass legislation and provide safe sanitation and water to protect Australians who were dying daily of preventable diseases like diarrhoea.
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As a politician one of my roles is to attend official openings. Like all of my colleagues I’ve opened schools, sporting facilities, roads, bridges and buildings complete with photos in a hardhat and safety vest. It is a part of the job and one that I quite enjoy.
It is fair to say that in my twenty-two years in Parliament I have attended hundreds of these ceremonies. Out of all of them, there is one which sticks in my mind as both the strangest and also among the most important.
In 2008, in the tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati, I formally opened a girl’s toilet at a school.
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The propensity for us ascribe days to inanimate objects seems endless. Some of the more obscure that we’ve encountered recently include ‘Picnic Day’, ‘World TV Day’ (which coincidentally shares a day with ‘World Hello Day’, one promoting socialising and one well…not), ‘Lefthanders Day’ and everybody’s favourite, ‘International Talk Like a Pirate Day’.
So it would not be out of the question to, upon hearing the words ‘World Toilet Day’, shake your head, perhaps laugh, and turn the page, or click the link for Laser Hair Solutions in the right side panel (because this site appreciates the plight of the left hander when designing web content).
All jokes aside, World Toilet Day is an internationally recognised and significant promoting a critical issue for 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty. It is the lack of safe toilets. We know the solution and we have the technology to simply, effectively and practically make a difference, all we need is the will.