by SENATOR CLAIRE MOORE and ROB OAKESHOTT MP
In August 2010, a Solomon Islands woman told Amnesty International that six months previously she had been severely beaten up and raped by two men in the settlement after relieving herself in the sea; “The two men were standing by the beach when I finished. I recognised them immediately from their voices…they were drunk…one of them grabbed my arm and one closed his hand over my mouth. They held me down and took my clothes off and raped me. They were very violent and I had bruises all over my body. I wanted to die desperately and I was crying and crying thinking of my children. After they raped me, they warned me that if I told anyone they would cut me up…I see them around the settlement but I wouldn’t dare tell the police. They…will not hesitate to hurt me again.”
But maybe if this woman had access to a toilet, this wouldn’t have happened. There are 1.25 billion women and girls who do not have access to a toilet. With no place to safely and privately manage their sanitation or their menstrual needs, going to the toilet is a dangerous and terrifying experience.
We were recently briefed by Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, who told us that the risk of sexual violence is especially high for women and girls who must walk long distances to sanitation facilities, especially at night. The same findings were reported to us by WaterAid, who have collected stories from women in India and Uganda describing how “a woman does not feel safe walking to the toilet. At night, men rape women who are going there.”
Along with fear and insecurity, these women’s stories were full of shame and humiliation – shame because they had nowhere private to go to the toilet with dignity. This steeps the issue in silence and makes discussing sensitive topics such as sanitation and menstruation even more of a social and cultural taboo.
Along with the increased risk to their personal safety, dignity and right to life, having no access to a toilet also jeopardises the health of many women and girls. The links between poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and illness are well established. There are increased susceptibilities to diarrhoea and infections such as worms and trachoma. There is also an increased risk from health issues specific to women- puerperal sepsis during child birth and reproductive health problems due to poor menstrual hygiene. Women are also most often the care-givers within the family and the community of those who are experiencing illness. Reducing the burden of illness of others will have a significant impact upon women.