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Girls & Women

Why access to clean water and sanitation is a women and girls' issue

Flickr: ILRI

After reading through, #ShowYourSelfie to tell world leaders you care about the rights of girls.

The absence of sanitation in villages, cities and countries across the world costs women and girls their safety and, often, their lives.

Two young girls in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India, disappeared from their village Katra. The girls, only 14 and 15 years old, were later found hanging from a mango tree. An autopsy showed that they had been gang-raped before being strangled.

The teenagers had gone to the fields near their village to use the bathroom. Except, these girls had no toilet or bathroom to go to.

This case highlights a problem that affects 2.5 billion people worldwide: a lack of basic sanitation. I know that I take using a clean toilet at home, at work or even at a public facility for granted -- but a staggering 1 in 3 people don’t have this luxury!

Poor sanitation means that people--currently 15% of the global population-- have no other option but to practice open defecation in places such as fields, bushes and roadsides. This pollutes waterways and creates major health risks due to the spread of disease. Every year, more than half a million children under five die from easily preventable diseases, like diarrhea, without modern sanitation and clean water.

Yet, like the two teenagers in Uttar Pradesh, this problem disproportionately affects women and girls. Open defecation puts women and girls at a greater risk for sexual violence. They risk shame, harassment, even rape, because they have nowhere safe to use a toilet. Every day 526 million women and girls are forced to find a discreet place to go to the toilet outdoors. That’s more than the population of the United States.

Women and girls are too often the principal victims of a lack of fundamental human rights. In this case, access to basic sanitation – a simple fixture we often take for granted – brought an end to the lives of two young girls.

Let’s not let one more child, girl, boy or woman be put at risk ever again. It's time for the world to fight for access to sanitation and water as a fundamental human right.

Photo: Flickr: Unicef


Access to basic sanitation and clean water is a fundamental human right. We must end the taboo on open defecation and address the risks that women and girls face on a daily basis.

Help address this challenge by taking action to support water and sanitation programs. Sign the petition on the page and help break the cycle of disease, poverty and violence.


Leticia Pfeffer