Planning to escape the oh-so-pleasant melodies of city noise, traffic, and pollution? Well, aren't you in for a treat! But hold on tight, because before you can indulge in the delights of a vacation, there's a crucial step you absolutely can't ignore. It has absolutely nothing to do with your actual destination, mind you. When traveling to the far reaches of Bangladesh, you must meticulously plan and acquaint yourself to carefully consider and familiarise yourself with the available restroom facilities. Who needs mesmerising views of the sea, exhilarating hikes up mountains, or invigorating swims in rivers? Those thoughts can wait! Your top priority should be the toilets at bus counters, train stations, and even aboard the trains themselves. And oh, the sweet anticipation of identifying the perfect pit stops along your journey where you can heed the call of nature. Picture the queues of eager individuals anxiously waiting to relieve themselves, the intriguing collection of questionable objects... faeces! Yes, indeed.
Let's now dig into the frustration and discomfort that may befall our precious mothers, sisters, wives, or daughters as they stumble upon the marvellously below average toilet facilities in public spaces across Bangladesh. Let's not forget about men! Oh yes, even I, a man, have suffered through the harrowing quest for pristine and accessible restrooms during my daily routines. But behold! We mustn't ignore the jarring reality that in this era of mind-boggling artificial intelligence, nuclear science, and space expeditions, we still resort to those captivating red warnings that scream, "Don't you dare relieve yourself on this wall!" Or better yet, we even employ Arabic script as a makeshift solution on walls throughout Bangladesh to prevent men from indulging in a public urination extravaganza.
In addition to their economic contributions, women in Bangladesh also play a vital role in society as they are responsible for most of the household work
It's truly a testament to our progress as a society, isn't it? These captivating challenges we face cast such alluring shadows upon the well-being, everyday rituals, and dignity of women. And in this shitty piece of literature, we shall embark on a journey to explore the profound demand for improved restroom facilities, the exquisite perpetuation of gender inequality that ensues, and the crucial steps towards creating a more inclusive environment for the wellbeing of the often overlooked but magnificent half of the population: the women of Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, women bear the consequences of inadequate restroom facilities, stemming from a patriarchal mindset and a lack of gender-sensitive infrastructure. Public restrooms fail to meet women's distinct requirements, leading to unhygienic and uncomfortable conditions. This neglect is generated by limited awareness, cultural taboos, and stigmas surrounding women's bodily functions. However, the ramifications extend beyond inconvenience. Women are forced to endure bladder suppression, restrict their water intake, or avoid public spaces altogether due to unhygienic conditions and insufficient facilities. These situations contribute to health issues, including urinary tract infections, and increased stress levels. Moreover, the inadequacy of restrooms hampers productivity and perpetuates gender inequalities.
In urban areas, women confront the challenge of insufficient sanitation and hygiene facilities, particularly within slums. The issue is exacerbated by overcrowding and limited resources. Urban women often lack access to clean and functional lavatories, thereby compromising their health, well-being, and dignity. In rural regions, women face even greater hardships in accessing clean restrooms. Marginalized communities, including riverine islands and isolated areas, are bereft of appropriate sanitation infrastructure. Consequently, women are confronted with unsanitary and unwholesome conditions on a daily basis, rendering them more susceptible to health risks and social marginalization.
But wait, haven't women in Bangladesh made significant contributions to the country's economy and society? In 2022, women accounted for 36.2% of the total workforce, and their economic contribution was 17.8% of the GDP. According to International Labour Organization (ILO), Women are especially prevalent in the ready-made garment (RMG) industry, where they make up with over 4 million workers, of which 80% are women, which is 65% of the workforce. The RMG industry stands as a significant pillar of Bangladesh's foreign exchange earnings, with working women in this sector estimated to contribute a staggering $30 billion. Yes, you heard it right, a whopping $30 billion!
To put it into perspective, this amount is equivalent to owning a fleet of 100 private jets, where each jet can cost anywhere from $50 million to $100 million, or having 100 islands of the size of Cat Island in the Caribbean, each spanning 140,000 acres. Yes, that is the contribution of our women to the economy each year. In addition to their economic contributions, women in Bangladesh also play a vital role in society as they are responsible for most of the household work.
· In 2022, there were an estimated 28.1 million working women in Bangladesh.
· The number of working women has increased by an annual average of 4.3% since 2020.
· Women's economic contribution is even higher in certain sectors, such as agriculture (23.1%) and education (32.5%).
· The World Bank estimates that if Bangladesh can achieve full female labor participation, the GDP could grow by an additional 2.5% per year.
Despite this progress, Women in Bangladesh who are suffering from various issues caused by hygiene and restroom facilities:
· 40% of women in Bangladesh lack access to private toilets at home, resulting in their reliance on unsanitary and unsafe public toilets. These facilities are often overcrowded, poorly maintained, and pose health risks due to the presence of bacteria and viruses. As a result, women are susceptible to various illnesses such as diarrhoea, cholera, and typhoid fever.
· 1 in 5 girls in Bangladesh, according to a 2018 survey by UNICEF miss school during their menstrual period due to a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products or facilities.
· 28% of women in Bangladesh lack access to private toilets, according to a 2019 survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. This increases privacy concerns and the risk of infection, as shared toilets are often overcrowded and poorly maintained, heightening the chances of contracting diseases.
· 15% of women in Bangladesh lack access to a toilet that is not located in the open, posing safety concerns and increasing the risk of infection. According to a 2019 survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, these open toilets are often situated in unlit and secluded areas, making women and girls vulnerable to attack. According to a book titled "Global Criminology: Crime and Victimization in a Globalized Era", there were 2,063 cases of women being victimized during the call of nature in Bangladesh in 2018.
Additionally, holding back urination for prolonged periods of time, such as during a work day or travel, can have serious health implications. Some of the potential health problems include:
Urinary tract infections (UTIs): When urine is not released regularly, bacteria can multiply in the urinary tract, leading to UTIs. These infections can be painful and, if left untreated, may result in more severe complications.
Bladder issues: Holding urine for extended periods can stretch the bladder and weaken the muscles that control it. This can contribute to problems such as incontinence, where the bladder involuntarily leaks urine.
Kidney problems: When urine is not expelled regularly, it can back up into the kidneys, placing stress on these vital organs. This backup can lead to kidney problems like kidney stones or infections.
Similarly, keeping pads on for prolonged durations can also pose potential health risks, including:
Vaginal infections: Prolonged use of pads can create a moist environment that promotes bacterial growth, potentially leading to vaginal infections such as yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. These infections can cause discomfort and, if untreated, may result in more serious complications.
Skin irritation: Sanitary pads, especially when not changed frequently, can irritate the skin, causing itching, redness, and even skin breakdown or bleeding.
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS): TSS is a rare but severe illness that can be associated with the use of certain types of menstrual products, including pads. It is caused by the overgrowth of bacteria and can lead to symptoms like fever, rash, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
The inadequate infrastructure in Bangladesh has turned restroom facilities into a frustrating battleground for both men and women. While everyone is challenged by the issue, men seem to enjoy the privilege of societal norms and the freedom to relieve themselves anywhere they please. They casually stroll through public spaces with a nonchalant smirk, while women are left grappling with significant challenges caused by the lack of user-friendly facilities. It's an outrageous disparity fuelled by societal expectations and blatant physiological differences. Women are forced to navigate this unequal terrain, struggling to manage their basic needs while men breeze through with ease. It's high time we address this glaring inequality and prioritize the creation of inclusive restroom facilities that ensure dignity and equal access for everyone.
Bangladesh has enacted laws and policies to address sanitation and hygiene issues, particularly for women. These include the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, Water Supply and Sewerage Authority Act, National Policy for Water Supply and Sanitation, and National Strategy for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene. These laws emphasize clean environments, separate facilities for men and women, and gender-responsive water and sanitation services.
The country also places emphasis on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation, SDG 3 on health and well-being, and SDG 5 on gender equality. These goals are crucial for sustaining development. The government of Bangladesh recognises the importance of the matter and taking comprehensive steps to ensure universal access to safe water and sanitation by 2030. Initiatives include the National Water Supply and Sanitation Plan (NWSSP), infrastructure development, financial support, and raising awareness. The Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach has successfully reduced open defecation in certain areas.
The National Sanitation Policy sets ambitious targets for zero open defecation and 80% accessibility to safe sanitation services by 2030. The Sanitation and Hygiene Program (WASH) promotes water and sanitation access and hygiene practices. Collaboration with NGOs and partners demonstrates the government's commitment to sanitation goals. NGOs such as BRAC, WaterAid, Plan International, Save the Children, and UNICEF contribute significantly to improving sanitation and hygiene.
In the quest for gender equality, it is vital to acknowledge the crucial role we all play in providing secure and hygienic restroom facilities for women in Bangladesh. While the government has a significant responsibility in prioritizing sanitation initiatives and infrastructure, it is not solely their burden to bear. We must all actively support and participate in comprehensive programs that raise awareness, educate others, and develop gender-sensitive facilities.
Through collective action and shared responsibility, we can create a society that grants women equal access to clean and dignified restrooms, safeguarding their health, well-being, and dignity. Inadequate restroom facilities have far-reaching consequences, hindering women's empowerment, health, and overall welfare. It is urgent to establish gender-responsive infrastructure that addresses the specific needs of women.
* Md. Mohiuddin Abir is a Grants, Compliance, and Strategic Development Specialist. He can be reached at [email protected]