collaboration, community, gender, sanitation, toilets

Open letter in support of all-gender restroom demand by UC Student-Worker Union

[Forgive my dearth of  Water for the Ages posts. I have been studying water and sanitation issues in a sociology program at University of California Santa Cruz. I am a teaching assistant and taking courses there. Our current student worker contract expired November 2013. One of our demands – besides calling for a living-wage, etc. – is all-gender restrooms. Below is my public letter in support of that demand. If you also support this demand, please visit this online petition.]

This letter is in support of the all-gender restroom demand by the UC Student-Worker Union. At least one all-gender and wheelchair accessible restroom should be installed in each UC campus building. This is a human right. This is a worker’s right.

I am second-year graduate student enrolled in the sociology program at UC Santa Cruz. I am also a Teaching Assistant for a sociology course here. I started focusing on global water and sanitation issues around five years ago in both work and research, and safe access to toilets and hygiene is a demand people around the world take seriously. Given the recent recognition of water and sanitation as a human right by the UN and also by the state of California, to say nothing of the obvious benefit to various users, this is a demand the University of California should take also seriously.

Did you know that California was the first state in the nation to designate water (for “sanitary purposes“) a human right? Governor Brown signed the historic bill in September 2012. He made this move after the ground-breaking UN resolution for an international human right to water and sanitation in July 2010. In fact, this year the UN is officially dedicating November 19th as World Toilet Day? They said “This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.”

Sanitation is a question of basic dignity for people in the Global South and in the Global North. And we (UC students, faculty, staff, and visitors) are not exempt. The average adult urinates up to eight times a day and defecates up to three times a day. Still not all people in the UC system have equal access to restrooms. Families with small children, those with disabilities, caretakers of the elderly, and LGBTQ individuals often walk by restrooms thinking “is it safe to enter?”

LGBTQ individuals are especially burdened with possible harassment and bullying in gender-segregated restrooms. A 2001 San Francisco Human Rights Commission survey found “41% of transgender respondents reported direct harassment or physical violence in gender-limited public bathrooms.” The Transgender Law Center states “many transgender and non-transgender people have no safe places to go to the bathroom – get harassed, beaten, and arrested in both women’s and men’s rooms.”

Workers on campus are doubly impacted. With limited time constraints, they might not be able to leave their building to find an all-gender restroom before their section starts or during class breaks.

The UC system should follow the lead of other places providing these essential sanitation rights across North America. Portland, Oregon adopted public restroom design principles calling for all-gender and single-user facilities in public spaces when designing the Portland Loo. All-gender and single-user restrooms designed by an American Restroom Association president won awards in La Jolla, California. The University of Alberta recently converted all single-user restrooms to all-gender restrooms. Penn State University converted 80 single-user restrooms to all-gender restrooms. The majority of restrooms at New College of Florida (Sarasota Campus) are all-gender facilities. These are just a few of the many success stories.

In summary, the UC system is especially well-poised to ensure these critical sanitation rights are met for all workers (and all people) on campuses statewide per Governor Brown’s recent legislation requiring water for “sanitary purposes” for all people and the international recognition of sanitation as a human right. Workers with small children, those with disabilities, caretakers of the elderly, and LGBTQ individuals deserve a working environment that meets their sanitation needs. A minimum of one all-gender and wheelchair accessible restroom in each UC campus building is a both a human right and a worker’s right. I ask that you honor these rights during UAW 2865 bargaining agreements.

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general, sanitation, south africa

Talking Poo with You: World Toilet Summit 2012

It seems a little progress is being made in getting the world to talk poo. Some people know that 2.5 billion humans lack safe access to toilets and over 4,000 kids die each day from diarrhea illnesses linked with poor sanitation. Fewer people understand toilet issues affect everybody either in natural disasters or through types of sanitation systems (h20 or non-h20) used. But there is more work to be done to ensure all people have a humane place to go and to design sanitation systems that protect the natural environment. The annual summit started by the World Toilet Organization is where such conversations are started. As a volunteer for a grassroots group working on toilets in North America, I’ve been nominated to present PHLUSH (Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human) efforts there.

So PHLUSH – and by default Water for the Ages – is heading to the World Toilet Summit next week in Durban, South Africa. Local event sponsors are the South African Toilet Organization and the Foundation for Professional Development. Leading toilet experts from around the globe will be in attendance. The list is invigorating. Bindeshwar Pathak an Indian sociologist and founder of Sulabh International, Dr. Kamal Kar a specialist in social and participatory development in sanitation, Barbara Penner whose current project is studying the history of h20-based sanitation expansion amidst high economic and environmental costs, Hannah Neumeyer a senior legal manager of WASH United, Piers Cross with a background in social anthropology and public health who helped organize AfricaSan, and more. The agenda is packed!

To share their [the above toilet aficionados] knowledge with the world, I’ll liveblog and livetweet the event. Check out PHLUSH liveblog starting December 3 for updates. Follow @PortlandPHLUSH and @waterfortheages for livetweets using conference hashtag of #WTS2012. All talks to be covered are listed below this post. And it would be great to hear issues you want me to cover at the World Toilet Summit. Please make your voice heard using the poll below. This amazing opportunity is made available by a sponsorship from the World Toilet Summit and donations from many supporters. In the honor of service at the World Toilet Summit next week, it’s time to talk poo and share it with you.

December 4, 2012
Keynote Address by Dr. Bindshwar Patak from 10:45 to 11:00 (10:45 to 11:00 PST)
African Toilet Design from 11:00 to 11:15 (1:00 to 1:15 PST)
Sanitation for All by Piers Cross from 11:45 to 12:00 (1:45 to 2:00 PST)
Achievements and Challenges of CLTS in Africa by Dr. Kamal Kar from 12:45 to 13:00 (2:45 to 3:00 PST)
Sanitation and Human Rights by Hannah Neumeyer from 14:30 to 16:00 (4:30 to 6:00 PST)

December 5, 2012
Sustainable Health and Hygiene Practices by Therese Dooley from 10:00 to 10:40 (00:00 to 00:40 PST)
Gender in Sanitation by Maxie Matthiessen from 11:30 to 11:50 (1:30 to 1:50 PST)
Mobile Communal Sanitation by Christopher Muanda from 15:30 to 16:30 (5:30 to 6:30 PST)

December 6, 2012
Green Buildings Recovery of Water and Nutrients by Jan-Olaf Drangert from 10:45 to 11:00 (00:45 to 1:00 PST)

animation, sanitation

Celebrating World Toilet Day 2012 Locally and Globally

Water and toilets are inextricably linked, but toilets sometimes take a backseat to water problems occurring worldwide. But if you don’t have water, you can’t have some styles of toilets or proper hygiene and around 200 million tons of human defecation pollutes waterways each year causing illnesses. Even though over 800 million people do not have safe drinking water and around 2.6 billion people do not have safe sanitation, water projects often receive more funding and media coverage. It’s essential to think about toilets locally and globally. World Toilet Day created by the World Toilet Organization is an opportunity to talk about the hidden problem of sanitation. To celebrate World Toilet Day 2012, Water for the Ages is raising awareness in US cities about emergency sanitation with PHLUSH and sharing information about toilet initiatives happening globally. Sanitation saves lives!

Sharing Emergency Sanitation in the US
PHLUSH believes toilets are a human right. The organization [where I volunteer] works on sanitation issues in North America: 1) public restroom design, 2) emergency sanitation, and 3) ecological sanitation. PHLUSH has had success in adaptation of an emergency toilet model used in Christchurch, New Zealand. This Twin Bucket Emergency Toilet helps families deal with lack of sanitation, and it’s ecologically friendly. Partner organization MDML created the Sewer Catastrophe Companion which provides detailed instructions in the event of long-term sewer disruption. These two organizations seem to be leading the nation in long-term emergency sanitation solutions. For World Toilet Day 2012, PHLUSH is sharing this emergency toilet model with several cities across the country. Please see open letters to Seattle, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz below. For more information, please contact info@phlush.org and follow @PortlandPHLUSH and @waterfortheages.

Emergency Sanitation Letter Seattle
Emergency Sanitation Letter San Francisco
Emergency Sanitation Letter Santa Cruz


Above Photo: Twin Bucket Toilet by Carol McCreary

Supporting Sanitation Efforts Worldwide
Lack of toilets globally is a huge issue, and related illnesses are the second biggest killer of children under five. Regions with worst access are West and Central Africa (36 percent coverage), South Asia (37 percent coverage) and Eastern and Southern Africa (38 percent coverage). Improving toilet coverage will allow girls to attend school, help save lives of small children, create a safer environment for women, and is the first step towards empowering communities. Many organizations are working to raise awareness on World Toilet Day 2012. The World Toilet Day website encourages people to get involved by tweeting and signing a petition. Water Aid created an awesome video to let people know 1 in 3 women do not have safe places to go. A great article called Thinking Outside the Stall was written featuring WASH Advocates. Water.org has an interactive website where you can “share your voice for World Toilet Day” by allowing them to link to your twitter and Facebook accounts. And Water for People has nifty e-cards that you can send to your friends. Please take a few moments today to learn a little something about those many humans without toilets. It could help save lives!

general

The Case for Pay Toilets (in Portland, Oregon)

This is an opinion piece on pay toilets. It was written for the PHLUSH blog in response to an article published in the Portland Mercury called When You Gotta Go. This post talks about my experiences using pay toilets in Europe, and it suggests a similar model could be implemented in Portland, Oregon.

A recent trip to Europe made me question the American way of feeling entitled to pee for free. After helping local sanitation group PHLUSH with two great summer events, I traveled out of the country with my partner while he completed company training. As Rose George said in The Big Necessity  “once you notice something, you notice it everywhere. Our most basic bodily function, and how we choose to deal with it, leaves signs everywhere entwined with everything, as intricately  intimate with human life as sewers are with the city.” So I noticed toilets on this trip abroad  – in the train stations of Germany and on the main squares of Italy. They were everywhere, and they typically cost money to use.

Two short toilet vignettes:

Germany: Avoiding the cramped airplane toilet during the flight to Germany, I really had to go after landing. I rushed to the main station to catch a train. Temporary WCs (the others under construction) were located on Track 3, and the sign said € .50. An attendant took my money and ushered me to a stall. Instead of walking into the usual stinky portable toilet, I was welcomed by a sparkling commode and sink.


Above Photo: L.Wilms on Wikimedia Commons.

Italy: It turns out € .50 wasn’t enough in Venice. We took a shared water bus from the airport to the city, which is man-made above a lagoon. Inside the bus station, I found the WC. The cost was €1.50. I really had to go, so I put some money in the turnstile and entered. This toilet was like most others I had experienced in Europe: private [unlike many North American stalls], fresh, and clean.


Above Photo: Public toilet in San Polo. Durant and Cheryl Imboden.

At the beginning of this month-long trip, I often thought indignantly “why do I have to pay to use the WC everywhere?”. The expensive Venetian toilets were especially disconcerting. But I slowly began to appreciate the cleanliness and availability of toilets. Toilet supplies like paper and soap were always available, floors were un-littered, and toilet seats were clean and dry. You could usually find a toilet within walking distance, and the fees helped maintain the toilets and pay attendants. For the most part, I became a pay-toilet believer.

After reading the article When You Gotta Go about the lack of public toilets in Portland, I wondered “could the pay toilet model provide some relief to Portland?” The article stated there were few public toilets in the city and many were unpleasant. The Portland Loos are serviced by Clean and Safe, but there are only five of them and a handful of other tax-supported toilet locations. Some businesses downtown have public toilets, but they are only usable by clients and customers. If the City of Portland built pay toilets in central shopping locations downtown, many visitors could afford to use them. Perhaps the income from the toilets could also provide additional revenue to an organization like Clean and Safe.

Of course, there would be a few hurdles when moving forward with pay toilets in Portland. Some toilets would need to continue to be [low cost and/or] free for those with no money. This would be in alignment with the United Nations Resolution that “clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights”. Pay toilets could be provided by businesses alongside the free toilets that are mandated by occupancy-based building codes, but the American Restroom Association website points out that the National Model Building Code “does not allow pay toilets unless mandated toilets are also available without charge”. Finally, the public would need to be re-conditioned to see the value of paying to pee. But I believe the last hurdle would be quickly overcome after each person has their first experience in a clean-smelling, supply-rich, convenient toilet during a harrowing day in the big city.

drinking water, film, outreach, PSA-a-thon Series, sanitation, united nations

Don’t Let it Drop – PSA-a-thon Series

Are you ready for your daily dose of H20 packaged into a handy-dandy Public Service Announcement? Well, I hope so. Today’s PSA is from WaterAid. It was created to encourage world leaders to make toilets a priority at the upcoming UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit in September 2010. Musicians playing at Glastonbury Festival were featured in the PSA.

Ten years ago, United Nations member states agreed to achieve eight MDGs by 2015 to end global poverty. MDG No. 7 includes a target to reduce – BY HALF – the number of people without safe drinking water and basic sanitation. See the recent MDG Report 2010 for more information on the status of all targets.

More PSA-maddness can be found covering rainwater harvesting in India, the LA Tap Project, a water-conservation campaign in Denver, the Tap Project 2009, Charity Water, and The World Cup, Water, and Sanitation.

outreach, sanitation

World Toilet Day 2009

Today is World Toilet Day. And – if you giggle at this funny-sounding name – you might not realize the vital importance of proper sanitation.

Over 2.5 billion (about 40 percent of the world population) urinate and defecate outside. Open defecation, or OD as it is commonly known, spreads diseases and results in the poor health or DEATH of many people. Around 2 million children die each year from sanitation-related illnesses (more than HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined).

But it’s difficult for numbers to tell the true story. During visits to villages in South India with Arghyam, some people told me their stories of OD. A story of how OD speeds the spread of diseases. A story of skin rashes, boils, and infections resulting after using the main OD area in a village (sometimes without shoes). A story of what it feels like walking down a trail covered in human feces during the rainy season to use the main OD area in a village.

Here is a small snippet of an interview of my friend interpreting a woman’s description of an OD area (in an undisclosed village). The interview is graphic. Please listen at your own risk.

Now, if after reading this blog post, you want to make a difference. Here are some ways:

Talk about it. One problem is that people do not want to discuss what they think is a dirty subject. The WTD website has some great ideas for spreading the word.

Donate. Water Aid, a well-known water and sanitation NGO, has an option where you can buy a family a toilet online.

Attend an event. Water Advocates is having a special event in Washington DC today, and there are other such events around the world. Check them out!