SANITATION challenges did not suddenly disappear at the dawn of democracy and remain symbols of inequality across South Africa. A place for relief, with dignity Many homes have no toilets while women and girls bear the brunt THEMBELA NTLEMEZA THE MERRIAM WEBSTER dictionary defines the toilet as “a fixture that con sists usually of a water flushed bowl and seat and is used for defecation and urination”. While this definition captures the mechanics associated with a toilet, it neglects what one may consider the rather “tacit” functions of the toilet. To give an idea; in addition to its tangible purpose, the toilet is also a space where we pause to reflect we make big or small decisions, laugh or cry in secret as warranted, etc. Those transient minutes of privacy afford us intimacy and vulnerability, regardless of the location. In essence, toilets are not mere facilities of relief; they are, literally and metaphorically, spaces of dignity. In like manner, when we take a brief trip down South African and global history, we witness toilets also symbolising strong political stand points. From colonial archives we learn that toilets, among other facilities, were used to enforce racial and social discrimination by segregationist regimes, wherein citizens were allo cated separate toilets in line with white supremacist values. Alas, sanitation challenges across race and class did not suddenly dema terialise at the dawn of democracy. As I pen this, toilets remain one of the emblems of inequality, delicately dividing the haves from the have nots. It is thus no surprise that a recent study by the SA Human Rights Commission revealed that approximately 11% of South African households lack proper toilet systems, the bulk of these being in the rural regions of KwaZulu Natal, North West and the Eastern Cape. Evidently, the toilet denotes the extent of social and economic inclu sion in a society. While race and class remain a determinant of access, research reveals that women and girls bear the biggest brunt when dignified sanitation is denied a people. In 2017, WaterAid reported in the “State of The World’s Toilets” publica tion that one in three women girls in the world are without access to adequate sanitation. In areas where such a reality is immediate, women are forced to walk long distances to remote areas to relieve themselves, which subjects them to harassment and or probable I’ 1 cm e uick Where we make big or small decisions, laugh or cry in secret. Those transient minutes of privacy afford us intimacy and vulnerability, regardless of the location. sexual abuse, especially after dark. The report also states that this threat to women’s bodies is mainly prevalent in slums, rural regions, refu gee camps and pen urban settings, confirming henceforth that the dep rivation of basic resources amplifies the vulnerabilities of women. Thus, in the intent to address the scourge of violence against women girls , governments and stakehold ers involved in sanitation design and implementation have a responsibility to take cognisance of the intersection between sanitation and gender based violence and duly prioritise toilet facilities which enhance the safety of women and girls. In the South African context, efforts toward designing women friendly sanitation ought to be within the National Water Resource Strategy framework, which promotes planning which elevates conservation of the water resource. The chronic increase in drought levels in the country indicates that the traditional toilet as we know it is no longer a viable solution. To rub salt in the wound, the World Wide Fund projects for SA a 17% water deficit by 2030. This of course calls for radical designing wherein innovation takes centre stage, aka “reinventing the toi let” as sanitation experts would argue. In this respect, the Water Research Commission WRC and partners have invested in accelerating the develop ment of innovative next generation sanitation solutions which use very little or no water at all. These include the Arumloo toilet, a collaborative effort between Isidima Design and Development, the Water Technologies Demonstration Pro gramme Wader , the Global Cleantech Innovation Programme GCIP and the WRC. The patented toilet system, whose shape is derived from nature’s arum lily to enable efficient vortex flow through the toilet bowl, uses less than two litres of water per flush and can be retrofitted in existing buildings and installed in new buildings and.com munity settings. An additional innovative solution is the EcoSan Waterless Toilet System which requires zero water to function. All the above considered, it should be noted that for the government to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN in which countries have vowed, among other objectives, to pursue gender equality and ensure equitable access to adequate basic ser vices for all by 2030, the implemen tation of innovative women friendly toilet infrastructure in unserved areas becomes indispensable. In so doing, the inherent threat of gender based violence coupled with the lack of safe sanitation, will be curbed, and by extension gender equality advanced. Thembela Ntlemeza is the Technology Transfer Officer at the Water Research Commission and writes in her personal capacity.
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