Sanitation for Women: The Problem and Solution

Right now, two billion people live without access to basic sanitation; that’s just over a quarter of the world. Another 800 million people lack basic access to safe water.

For women and girls, these challenges are disproportionately difficult, making it a significant hurdle for women in the world today. Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene go hand in hand, and one cannot be fully realized without the other. Together, the three are referred to as “WASH.”

Here’s why sanitation for women, hygiene, and safe water access matter and how to solve the problem.

Why Sanitation for Women Matters

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are 17 initiatives to drastically improve the livelihood of people and the planet by 2030. Goal number 6 reads, “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”

According to the United Nations, “In 2016, one third of all primary schools lacked basic drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services, affecting the education of millions of schoolchildren, but particularly girls managing menstruation, and one in four health-care facilities worldwide lacked basic water services, affecting more than 2 billion people.”

For women delivering a child in these health facilities, a lack of safe water can be fatal for mother and child.

sanitation for women
A child in Uganda in front of his village’s new, safe water source.

According to FIGO, the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetrics, “An estimated eight percent of maternal deaths (and up to 15 percent in [low- and middle-income countries]) can be directly linked to unhygienic conditions during labour and birth and poor postnatal hygiene.”

Safe water and hygiene for women can reduce the risk of infections and death for infants and mothers by up to 25 percent. Sanitation for women, safe water access, and improved hygiene saves their lives and the lives of their infants, reducing maternal and infant deaths drastically.

Other challenges, such as absenteeism during menstruation and the spread of disease in classrooms, are also critical problems mitigated by access to basic sanitation.

“Women all over the world without access to basic sanitation and safe water struggle to keep themselves clean, especially during menstruation,” Lizzy MacRae Garvin, Lifewater International’s WASH Program Officer to Uganda, said.

For girls, menstruation can mean an end to their education simply because their schools lack basic female hygiene and sanitation resources.

sanitation for women
With improved sanitation for girls, safe water, and hygiene access they can stay in school.

For women and girls in villages, Macrae Garvin said, “There’s a lack of privacy when urinating or defecating, so many women and girls without a toilet will wait until it’s dark outside to relieve themselves or bathe, which exposes them to attacks.”

Waiting to use the bathroom exposes women to other health risks, such as painful and costly urinary tract infections. Avoiding using the bathroom by dehydrating oneself is also damaging for the overall health of the woman.

Improved sanitation for women is critical to lifting the status, wellbeing, and opportunities of women everywhere. With improved sanitation, girls can go to school uninterrupted. Women can run small businesses without leaving early to find a faraway toilet or wait all day to go outside.


Solving the Sanitation Problem for Women

Safe water access, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are the most basic building blocks for empowering women everywhere. The three go hand in hand; to truly solve the sanitation problem for women, you need all three.

At the most basic level, here’s what it takes to provide proper sanitation for women:

1) A toilet with dignity

Building and using a simple pit or pour-flush toilet separates people from poop, drastically decreasing diseases in communities and schools. It also provides safety and dignity for women, giving them a place to go so they no longer have to wait until dark or expose themselves during the day.

2) A hand washing facility

When every home constructs a simple hand washing device and begins using soap, the spread of disease is prevented. For women cleaning up after small children in rural communities, hand washing is critical to health.

Plus, access to soap and water allows women and girls to keep themselves clean while menstruating.

sanitation for women
Children in Cambodia washing their hands at a home made hand washing facility called a “tippy tap.”

3) A safe water source

Safe water is vital to sanitation. Without it, bathrooms and dishes can’t be cleaned, and hands can’t be washed properly. Plus, safe water close by provides relief for women and girls who are often tasked with the burden of carrying heavy loads of water to and from the source. This saves them time and gives them the opportunity to go to school and work.

4) A drying rack

Washing dishes and drying them in the sun, away from animals, helps stop the spread of harmful pathogens. A dish drying rack built from local materials improves sanitation for entire families.

Sanitation for women
A drying rack to air dry clean dishes helps prevent the spread of disease.

5) Menstruation Hygiene Management (MHM) Training

Women and girls experiencing shame for menstruation cycles or who are unaware of how to best care for themselves during their periods face great challenges. Solving the sanitation crisis for women everywhere means changing the narrative about menstruation.

Through Menstruation Hygiene Management Training for girls in schools, available female hygiene products in schools, and lessons on menstruation hygiene management for women in communities, women and girls become confident and capable of managing this very normal, healthy part of life.

Twelve-year-old Nekesa knows the impact that safe water and improved sanitation can have on her and her friends.

“Other schools don’t have a well with clean water, but we do,” she said. “Before Lifewater came, children were suffering; now, we no longer suffer from stomach aches.”

“Now, children use the bathroom inside of a building, rather than outside,” she added.

Nekesa’s school, Buluma Primary in Uganda, is one of many schools sponsored by Lifewater with safe water and improved sanitation for everyone.

sanitation for women
Nekesa and her friend show Bulumba Primary’s female hygiene resources.

Solve the Crisis by Providing Sanitation for Women

At Lifewater, we believe that every person is made in the image of God, and we seek to restore this God-given dignity to communities in need. Through our programs in rural communities, families learn how to improve sanitation in their homes and become registered “Healthy Homes.”

Our engineers construct custom safe water solutions for communities and schools, and our staff work with women and girls to adopt menstruation hygiene management practices, eliminate stigmatization, and access sustainable female hygiene resources.

Providing basic sanitation for women and girls is life saving and life changing. That’s why, for over 40 years, generous donors have come alongside Lifewater to make change a reality. Together, we’ll put an end to the sanitation crisis for women.


Choose a Village. Change a Life.