8th March 2017

Every year, on the 8th March, International Women’s Day takes place to celebrate the social, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action to accelerate gender parity.

At Sanitation First we’re marking International Women’s Day by:

  1. Raising awareness around women’s issues related to poor sanitation

  2. Declaring the bold actions we’re taking, by empowering women through access to clean, safe sanitation

  3. Celebrating the achievements of some inspiring women who have taken action to tackle poverty and accelerate gender parity

In 2015, Sanitation First built a GroSan toilet in the Thazhampoo Nagar community, in Puducherry, India. To mark International Women’s Day this year we asked some of the women in this community to tell us why the toilet is so important to them. Watch the video below to see what they have to say. 


Every year on the 8th March, International Women’s Day takes place to recognise the social, cultural, and political achievements of women. It’s a day of celebration, to celebrate acts of courage by ordinary women. It’s a day of reflection, to reflect upon the progress made thus far. It’s a day of advocacy and action: calling for action to accelerate gender parity.

International Women’s Day can trace its roots back over 100 years to a women’s march in New York City in 1908. 15,000 women marched through the city demanding shorter working hours, improved pay, voting rights, and the eradication of child labour. Today, International Women’s Day is celebrated by millions of people all over the world. In many countries, it is also an official holiday.

The International Women’s Day campaign theme for 2017 is Be Bold for Change. It invites us to take bold actions to help progress the gender agenda. It stresses that each on of us can be a leader in taking action to accelerate gender parity.

To find out more, visit the International Women’s Day website (


Globally there is a sanitation crisis. 2.4 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation[1]. This is a huge issue, for everyone. 88% of deaths due to diarrhoeal disease can be attributed to unsafe drinking water, poor hygiene, and inadequate sanitation[2].

But when it comes to sanitation, the gender divide is immense. Poor sanitation places a disproportionate burden upon women and girls (due to both biological and cultural factors), who are structurally disadvantaged as a result. We must recognise women’s unique issues and needs whilst addressing poor sanitation.

Open defecation (practiced by 13% of the world’s population) leads to compromised dignity and personal safety, especially for women and girls. Without improved sanitation facilities, women are deprived of basic rights to physical privacy and of freedoms over their own body. Many women restrict their food and water intake to minimise their need for a toilet and wait until nightfall to relieve themselves, risking their personal safety as a result. The risk of physical attack when looking for an area of privacy is a serious issue: 10% of women in slums in India have experienced first or second hand harassment in the last 12 months, whilst looking for a toilet space.



Poor sanitation spreads illness and disease and women bear the brunt of this. Women and girls are typically providers of healthcare: they assume responsibility for looking after sick relatives and community members. Girls may have to give up their education to care for the sick, or take up paid work to cover the costs of healthcare[3]. All over the world, women typically defer treatment of their own illnesses in order to get care for their families[4].


Without toilets in schools, children are forced to leave school grounds to find an open space, river or gutter to use. This is especially problematic for girls when they begin menstruation. With no place to safely and hygienically change their sanitary towels, girls often miss school when they are on their period and some drop out of education altogether. In fact, 23% of girls in India drop out of school when they reach puberty, with half citing a lack of toilet facilities as a reason[5].



Sanitation First believes in getting the basics in place so takes bold actions to empower women and girls through access to clean, safe toilets. Through our programmes, we reduce the problems and issues experienced by women and girls on a daily basis.

Our bold actions:

  1. We build toilets onsite in schools so that girls (and boys) don’t have leave the school grounds to find somewhere private to go

  2. We educate girls to understand the links between sanitation, hygiene and poor health

  3. Our school toilets encourage girls to stay in school, so that they are able to get a full education crucial for their future employment prospects (research shows that with toilets in schools, there is a 15% increase in girls attending)

  4. Our girls’ toilets in senior schools contain private hygiene units for washing, as well as incinerators for burning used sanitary towels. This reduces girls’ feelings of shame and embarrassment around menstruation.

  5. Our toilets are always free of charge and thus accessible to the poorest of the poor, especially women. (Women require more frequent access to toilets than men, and in many communities women do not have independent access to money. Free toilets are therefore emancipating for women and girls).

  6. Communities using our toilets have seen a 17% decrease in cases of diarrhoea, reducing the burden felt by women in terms of caring for the sick. The whole family is healthier and better off.

  7. Our toilets are placed within communities and they provide a safe, contained, and private place to go to the toilet. Women no longer need to worry about the personal risks and shame of open defecation.

To find out more about our work and the bold actions we take, visit our website:


We’d like to take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on just a few of the inspiring women in the sanitation sector, and celebrate their achievements on this International Women Day. We can all learn something from these remarkable ladies.

Akshaya, age 13, Chennai: 

Akshaya has really been bold for change! Akshaya took the bold action to use her birthday money to build a toilet for a girl of her own age, who did not have one. “There are girls my age who don’t have a restroom to use at their homes, but we take these things for granted, so I wanted to make sure that at least someone of my age would have a toilet”. Her initiative has grown and she has now funded 12 toilets for girls who were deprived of their basic needs. She aims to reach her target of 100 toilets by next year! We are completely inspired by Akshaya’s work and we look forward to seeing her initiative progress over the coming year!


Mathi, Puducherry: 

Mathi, is a Community Development Worker for Sanitation First. She explains the benefits of hygiene and sanitation to inhabitants of the communities with whom we work: “Before I joined Sanitation First, I didn’t know how to use a toilet. But once I’d learnt about the benefits, I wanted to share my knowledge. I now work with Sanitation First, teaching other women how to use a toilet. I also talk to them about the dangers of open defecation. As a woman, I am well placed to understand their problems. For me, helping others in this way is really rewarding.”


Visalakshi, Puducherry:


Visalakshi is also a Community Development Worker for Sanitation First: “Through our work, we are really able to help the women in this community. This makes me really happy. And teaching young girls about the benefits of using toilets is really rewarding”


You too can get involved in International Women’s Day. It’s your turn to take bold actions to accelerate gender parity! Let us know what actions you are going to take: tag us on social media, @SanFirstUK, and use the International Women’s Day hashtags: #BeBoldForChange and #IWD2017.

If you’d like to support our work empowering women through access to clean, safe sanitation in India and Sierra Leone, then visit our website to donate here.




Women | Girls | Sanitation | Toilets | Hygiene | Empowerment | Education | Safety | Health



#SanitationFirst #BeBoldForChange #IWD2017 #GirlsAndEducation #WomensEmpowerment #ToiletsForProgress

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