We must step up hygiene and sanitation provision for the world’s children

11 NOVEMBER 2020

This World Toilet Day, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic we are urging governments and the international community to step up sanitation and hygiene measures and provisions for children – taking into account the burdens upon and specific needs of women and girls. 

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Children show off their clean hands after using the handwashing stations

Despite progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, 4.2 billion people still lack access to safely managed sanitation, and hygiene facilities are unavailable to 3 billion.*

The COVID-19 pandemic, which so far has spread to nearly 55 million people and resulted in over 1.3 million deaths,  has highlighted how important these services are to public health, children’s education, and the economy. 

Women and girls bear the greatest burden from the lack of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. Women and girls are typically responsible for collecting 80% of household water, and spend more than double the (unpaid) time of boys and men fetching water, cleaning toilets, and other related tasks.  And this burden has likely increased as a result of COVID-19. 

Schools still lack basic hygiene facilities

Over 440 million school days are lost by children every year due to WASH-related illnesses. 

Our schools are a critical part of a child’s world. Yet 31% of schools lack safe drinking water, 37% lack basic sanitation, and 43% lack hygiene facilities.  Over 440 million school days are lost by children every year due to WASH-related illnesses. Girls often stay home from school during their periods because they are unable to safely or hygienically manage their menstruation there, missing out on 10 – 20% of their class time

This year’s World Toilet Day theme is ‘sustainable sanitation and climate change’. Climate-related issues are on a worsening trend, and as many as 700 million persons could be displaced due to water scarcity by 2030. Flooding, drought and rising sea levels can damage sanitation systems, disrupting service and leading to discharge of sewage into the environment. The connection between climate change and disease outbreaks is becoming increasingly apparent, with higher global temperatures linked to increasing rates of infectious disease outbreaks and child malnutrition.

What is Plan International doing to tackle water and sanitation challenges?

Girl in Borno State, Nigeria, washes her hands using handwashing station installed by Plan International.

Plan International is actively working in over 50 countries to help address WASH challenges. In partnership with government and partner agencies, we seek to ensure that children and their families have access to sustainable sanitation and hygiene facilities, and to prevent the spread of deadly infectious diseases such as COVID-19, cholera and typhoid.

Sanitation and hygiene also have fundamental links to issues of gender and social equality, including women’s and girls’ empowerment. Through our gender-transformative WASH approach, Plan International seeks to empower women and girls – challenging the discriminatory gender norms that affect how girls and women conduct their lives, and how they are treated in society. 

We have responded to the COVID-19 crisis with a wide range of sanitation and hygiene-related interventions – in communities and in schools – as well as for refugees and persons displaced by conflict and natural disasters. 

We will continue to advocate for, and work towards a world in which every person has access to a safe and secure toilet regardless of gender or social status, and a clean environment. 

We are calling upon governments and the international community to:

  • Recognise the importance of sanitation and hygiene issues for women and girls, and promote involvement and leadership by women and girls in addressing these issues.
  • Commit to invest in gender-friendly toilets for all schools, healthcare facilities, workplaces, and public spaces.
  • Sharpen the gender focus in WASH programming to help redistribute the work related to domestic sanitation, hygiene and water supply – which unfairly burdens women and girls.
  • Promote environmentally sound sanitation systems which reduce or eliminate soil and water contamination, as well as reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

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Emergencies, COVID-19, Water and sanitation