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Women's Participation in Sanitation in Gambia and in The World

Feb 27, 2009, 5:10 AM | Article By: Isatou Dumbuya

Dear beloved readers, 2008 was the year of sanitation, did you know?

And when we talk of sanitation, I know what springs to your mind is cleaning out waste and making the environment clean or precisely 'set settal' as we fondly call it. Yes, 'set settal' in general, but it is something more intimate, something less discussed in our modest African societies.

Do you know that more than 2.6 billion people- roughly 40% of the world's population, lack what most of us take for granted: a toilet. This year's purpose is to raise awareness about this crisis and galvanise action to address it.

The Mellinium Development sanitation target is to reduce by half the proportion of people without a toilet between 1990 and 2015. Making the target a reality is critical to economic growth, to our health, to environmental sustainability and above all to women's empowerment. In fact, better sanitation will further all the MDG goals.

Do you know that sanitation is one of the best investments a country can make: on average, every US dollar one invested yields benefits that can be valued nine US dollars.

Expanding sanitation coverage is not rocket -science. We know how to do it. It is not like generating so much money to find electrical cleaners and waste throwing vehicles. It is all about mobilising communities, hard work, determination and the need to eliminate waste. Not just waste but defecates.

When our toilets and our 'soak-aways"get filled to the brim, our children do use the ground and the neighbourhood to relieve themselves.

But there is a solution for that; we could build other toilets with concrete holes. Still we could ensure the cleanliness of the areas and its freedom from being fly-infested. This, if achieved, would be appealing to people's desires for convenience, cleanliness, safety, privacy, pride and prestige. But with political will, major progress on sanitation is possible- even for the poorest countries.

Do you know that sanitation contributes to dignity, economic and social development?

It is hard for someone living in an urbanised community with hot and cold running water, and flush toilets on every floor of the house, to imagine life in an urban slum with no sanitation. Thousands of families live every day surrounded by garbage, pools of stagnant water and streams of urine and faeces. Children work and play surrounded by filth while their parents must bear the sorrow of their needless untimely deaths. Most women and girls must wait until nightfall to relieve themselves, putting their safety at risk. In Darfur and Chad, aid agencies construct latrines close to settlement camps because of the risk of attack and rape faced by women who must walk any distance to use sanitation facilities.

In India, around 800,000 people make a living by removing faeces from other people's latrines and carrying it away in baskets on their heads, a livelihood that bars their inclusion in mainstream society.

Sanitation protects the environment. The sheer volume of untreated human waste demands attention. Without effective sanitation systems, human waste flows directly into water ways and contaminating ground water. Water supplies are compromised, rivers become stinking sewers and fisheries are threatened. Everyday, diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation kills 5000 infants and children. For the better lives of women and children, access to hygienic toilets can reduce child Diarrhoeal deaths by more than 30% and hand-washing can reduce them by more than 40%.

Children born into environments of poor sanitation develop histological features of tropical enteropathy early in life. Day for change focuses on water and sanitation in The Gambia.