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Women and Men Have Different Needs

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 7: Building Toilets > Women and Men Have Different Needs

Women and men have different needs and customs when it comes to using the toilet. Men may be more comfortable than women relieving themselves in public or in open spaces. A lack of safe, private toilets makes it more difficult for women to participate in community life.

As women wait at a bus stop, a man urinates against a nearby wall.
It is generally easier for men to relieve themselves than it is for women.

Planning toilets with women’s needs in mind

A woman and girl at a toilet shelter.

Leaving women out of sanitation planning puts them at a greater risk for health problems because it is less likely that their needs will be met. Men must also keep women's needs in mind when changes are made in community sanitation if they are to improve health for everyone.

To make it easier for women to participate in community sanitation planning in a way that does not simply give them more work to do:

  • Organize meetings at times when women can participate.
  • Make sure that women are invited and feel comfortable speaking out.
  • Have separate meetings for women if they make it easier for women to speak up.
  • Share decision making power.
If you teach a man, you teach one person. If you teach a woman, you teach a whole nation - African proverb.

Women usually teach and care for children. When women's needs are not met, the needs of children may be unmet as well. When women are not included in planning household and community sanitation, the whole community suffers.

Removing barriers to toilets for women

This activity helps people talk about issues that may prevent women from having access to safe and healthy toilets. The goal is to decide what changes might be necessary to improve health for everyone. After the activity has been done with just women, a session can be organized with men and women.

Time: 1 to 1½ hours

Materials: Large drawing paper, pens, sticky tape

  1. Write statements about toilets on a large piece of paper. Then read each statement to the group, and ask each person to decide whether she agrees or disagrees. (Ask people to raise a hand if they agree, or to leave their hand down if they do not.) For every ‘yes’ answer, make a mark next to the phrase.

    Here are some statements that might be used:
  2. illustration of the below; 5 women sit and discuss by wall with a large piece of paper reading: "Too far from my house. Safer to go in the bush. No way to wash after. The toilet is dirty and I am the person who must clean it. I do not want to be seen entering or leaving the toilet. Pregnant women are not permitted to use toilets. During monthly bleeding we are not permitted to use the toilets. The toilets are not safe for children."
    During monthly bleeding we are not permitted to use the toilets.
    The toilets are not safe for children.
  3. Count the marks beside each statement. Choose the problems that were mentioned most often and begin a discussion about them. What is the cause of the problem? What illnesses may result from this problem? What can be done to improve the situation? What are the barriers to improving the situation?
  4. End with the group deciding on some actions that can be taken by both men and women to make sure everyone’s needs are met.

Making toilets easier to use

A person holding onto a hand support made of sticks squats to defecate over a pot.

There are many ways to make toilets easier for children and adults with disabilities to use. People need different adaptations depending on their abilities, so it is best to involve disabled people in the planning. Be creative in finding solutions that fit everyone’s needs.

A toilet chair.
Removable front bar can be added if needed

If a person has difficulty squatting, make a simple hand support or a raised seat. Or, if the toilet is set in the ground, make a hole in the seat of a chair or stool and place it over the toilet.

If a person has difficulty controlling her body, make supports for her back, sides, and legs, and a seat belt or bar.

Use a rope or fence to guide blind people from the house to the toilet.

If a person has difficulty adjusting clothing, adapt the clothing to make it loose or elastic. Make a clean, dry place to lie down and dress.

If a person has difficulty sitting you can make moveable handrails and steps.

Toilet adapted for wheelchairs

illustration of the below:A woman in a wheelchair uses a toilet shelter.
shelter big enough so that a wheelchair can fit inside
bell or something to make noise, if help is needed
backrest to support seating
hand rail to make moving from wheelchair to toilet easier
toilet seat and wheelchair on same level
wide door that opens outward for easy access
door handle with pull cord
path to the toilet is level and easy to get to from the house
Remember, a person with a disability feels the same need for privacy as anyone else and should get the privacy he or she needs.
A curtain with a sign reading "In Use."