Women and children

overcoming fear of the blank page

Bog Standard is not just a brilliant name for a campaign – it is a brilliant campaign. Launched in October 2004, Bog Standard aims to improve toilet facilities for school children in the UK, and it has brought the issue of toilets for pupils to the fore. It is headed by ERIC (Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence), an organisation primarily concerned with continence issues amongst young people.

Also organised by ERIC is the Water is Cool in School campaign. The adequate provision of water is a crucial element in ensuring good toilet habits, and the two campaigns are inextricably linked. Children and young people have continence and soiling problems for all sorts of reasons, but one major contributor is not drinking enough water. This can lead to a reduced bladder capacity. The Water is Cool in School campaign was launched in 2000 aiming to get drinking water out of the lavs and into the spotlight – and in this health conscious age of tackling childhood obesity it’s an important campaign. It has had considerable success in changing the culture of drinking water in schools; a survey in 2003 found that many schools are now permitting or even encouraging drink bottles in the classroom.

But the ERIC team realised that they needed to look a few steps backwards; the reason some children don’t drink water at school is so that they can avoid the toilets.

Bad lavs can mean anything from poor provisions, lack of privacy, dirty or vandalised facilities, accessibility issues and the presence of bullies. If children don’t feel comfortable going to the toilet or feel rushed they may stop too early, not emptying their bladder completely. Or they may not go at all. Good clean toilets are key to improving toilet habits; but children also need to know that their toilets are free of bullies and smokers, that they have plenty of time and privacy to completely empty their bladder and bowels and to not feel ashamed. They need to know they can go when they need to go. I’ve never been shy about the toilet, but I can imagine that for some children having to ask the teacher to go to the toilet every hour must be humiliating. ERIC goes so far as to say that the lack of suitable facilities, privacy and time for children to go to the toilet is a breach of their human rights.

In Delhi, a young woman has conducted a survey which found that only 4 percent of the public toilets provided in the city are designed for use by women! From May to July 2008, Shahana Sheikh toured the slums of New Delhi counting up the toilets. As a result of her report, the Delhi High Court has directed the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to file a status report within four weeks, regarding public toilet provision for women in slum areas.

“What is this mere talk of women empowerment and feminism worth if there is no provision of something as basic as toilet facilities for the poorest of poor women,” asks Sheikh.

It seems to me that in this International Year of Sanitation, we need to particularly look at the toilet situation for women and children.

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.


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