97 billion hours and still no toilet

November 19 is World Toilet Day – created by the UN to draw attention to the fundamental importance of sanitation. While having access to a clean, safe toilet is a basic concern for us all, it is particularly important for women and girls around the world. Did you know that women and girls spend 97 billion hours each year finding a place to go to the bathroom? The statistics are startling:

– 2.5 billion people globally do not have access to proper sanitation.

– One in three women worldwide risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. Sanitation would make the lives of 1.25 billion women around the world safer and healthier.

– Lack of sanitation is the world’s foremost cause of infection. Accounting for some 1.5 million deaths each year, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death for children under five. It kills more children than malaria, AIDS and measles combined.

– Only 45 percent of schools in the least developed and low-income countries have adequate sanitation facilities. While an average of 56 percent of boys in sub-Saharan Africa complete primary school, only 46 percent of girls do.

Xylem and its partners are trying to make a difference. One example is a program designed to help girls in India stay in school by securing their sanitation needs. The program is led by Water For People, a nonprofit that focuses on long-lasting water and sanitation solutions, backed by Xylem Watermark, Xylem’s corporate citizenship and social investment program.

Water for People’s girl-focused school program puts girls in charge of helping design the sanitation facilities at their school. In India, at least 23 percent of girls leave school when they start menstruating and the rest miss an average of five days during each monthly menstrual period between the ages of 12 and 18, according to the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council.

“Since 2008, Water For People and Xylem Watermark have reached 480 schools and 49 communities globally,” says Katja Neubauer, Water For People’s regional program officer for Africa and India.

Xylem employees are encouraged to volunteer to monitor the progress of the program and, to date, over 100 Xylem employees have taken the opportunity.

In a blog post, volunteer Karin Kyyrä writes about being taken to see the latrine blocks at a school: “I was struck by how something I take for granted every day is making such a big impact in these girls’ lives. The changing rooms allowed the girls to maintain good hygiene during menstruation, keeping many of them in school during adolescence.”

However, as volunteer Bina Bhavsar observes, a lot remains to be done: “The children are getting clean water and sanitation facilities in their schools, but what about their homes and communities? What else can be done to educate these communities about clean water and sanitation? The task is enormous, but by helping one drop at a time, the goal can be achieved.”

To find out more:

World Toilet Day: http://www.unwater.org/worldtoiletday
Xylem Watermark: http://xylemwatermark.com/running-water/

* Statistics from the UN, World Water Day Advocacy Report and water.org.

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