Content note: this post discuses suicide, transphobia, and racism
Each year, we have a little giggle that International Men’s Day happens to fall on the same day as World Toilet Day: teehee, November 19th is all about being full of shit! Now, I hate to be the humourless killjoy, but, yes, IMD is pretty much a load of rubbish but World Toilet Day is actually rather important and meaningful. Sadly, only one of these awareness days is trending today, and it’s not the important one.
World Toilet Day matters. The UN have shared some vital statistics about the nature of the problem. 2.4 billion people in the world do not have access to the improved sanitation facilities that we in the West take for granted. Up to one in ten people in the world are still forced to defecate out in the open. Diarrhoea–a fairly unpleasant inconvenience for those of us lucky enough to live in developed countries–is still a killer, with over 300,000 children a year dying from diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation and a lack of access to clean drinking water.
This year’s World Toilet Day theme is toilets and jobs (stop giggling at the back). Did you know that poor sanitation and access to hygiene facilities is one of the biggest workplace killers? 17% of workplace deaths around the world are caused by this, and yet toilet access seldom features when we discuss workers’ rights.
Toilet access is a driver of gender inequality across the world, too. A lack of access to a place to pee privately keeps girls out of school and women out of work. The privacy alone is an issue, although it is exacerbated for those who have periods, and have nowhere to safely, cleanly and privately change menstrual dressings.
Even in the West, where the sanitation itself is highly unlikely to kill us and the worst we’ll encounter is one of those weird French toilets where you have to squat (I know they’re better for you, but I still find them pretty terrifying to use), there are still bog-battles to be won.
In the workplace, around the world and the West included, some workers are unable to access toilet breaks. A recent expose of Asos warehouses found that workers were forced to meet with ridiculous targets or lose their jobs, and so were unable to take toilet breaks–and if they did, they were searched on their way in and out of the loo. And this is taking place in a developed country where the toilet facilities are a short distance away and physically present in the workplace!
Toilets are a site of social exclusion for many, preventing some people from leaving the house. For example, fear of being “caught short” stops elderly people from going out, leading them to feel as though they are “tethered by a bladder leash” (H/T @stitchandsow). This is, of course, exacerbated by mobility issues. Despite regulations surrounding toilet access for disabled people, a lot of the time, while nominally fulfilling duties, disabled people are still unable to access the toilet. Again, these are issues in countries which supposedly have laws allowing access to toilets, and hit far harder where such laws do not exist, and such physical access is even harder.
As well as being able to physically access the toilet, issues surround a more social pressure. This article on the history of toilet access being used to exclude people from public life is an absolute must-read. To summarise, though, when public toilets first became A Thing in the 19th century, toilets were used to exclude women from working life. During segregation, public loos were a battleground. And now we have the latest iteration, as the right wing attempt to ban trans people from using the right toilet facilities for their genders.
There are so many important conversations to be had about the toilet, and yet instead of having the space to discuss them, we are once again constrained by men taking up space. International Men’s Day is a bit of a joke, broadly marked by misogynistic professional victims, and definitely without a flavour of internationality, focusing mainly on privileged white dudes playing at being oppressed. Even the key talking point–men’s suicide rate–is perhaps better discussed elsewhere. After all, while men have a higher proportion of successful suicides, women attempt at the same rate and may even think about suicide more. So maybe it would be better if we talked about gender and suicide without centring entirely around men: there’s Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th!
So from now on, I won’t be mentioning International Men’s Day any more, and on November 19th, I’ll be talking about a key issue affecting people around the globe: the humble pisser. World Toilet Day is an awareness day where we all need to be more aware.
Everyone has a right to piss and shit in dignity and privacy, yet too many people are denied this. We must fight for access for all–and this needs to start with actually talking about it.