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As International Women’s Day Honors #PressforProgress, Global Sanitation Efforts Help Advance Equality


International Women's Day (IWD) on March 8 commemorates women's rights and recognizes their various social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. While the celebratory day has been observed since the early 20th century—the Suffragettes ran the first IWD in 1911— the 2018 theme #PressforProgress is an opportunity to explore how global sanitation efforts can be the groundwork for gender equality today.

Why Poor Sanitation Equals Gender Disparity

Studies reflect a strong link between poor sanitation and gender inequality. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 2.3 billion people still do not have basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines. Some have no other choice but to defecate in the open. Living without safe sanitation and privacy in developing nations leaves women and girls vulnerable to high risk of assault. Adding to global gender disparity: women and girls often have to miss school when they are menstruating, due to the lack of safe, private, and convenient sanitation. The domino effect for these women extends to the workplace, as lack of facilities can impact their attendance and productivity levels—impeding opportunities for success.

Ultimately, poor sanitation can have disastrous outcomes. Hundreds of thousands of people—not just women—die from often fatal diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio, which are frequently linked to underdeveloped sanitation.

Advancing Women's Equality with Reinvented Toilets

One of the many efforts that seeks to curb gender inequality is the reinvented toilet. Flush toilets—often commonly used in the developed world—are unrealistic commodities for many developing countries due to a lack of land, energy, water, and money. Advanced sanitation systems often found in developed countries require vast amounts of money to build, maintain, and operate.

To combat the sanitation crisis, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiated the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” in 2011, which jumpstarted the development of new aspirational toilet prototypes that remove germs from the human waste, operate off the grid in terms of water supply, sewers, or electricity, and cost less than US $.05 cents per user per day.

As a next step, the Gates Foundation has teamed up with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Association Senegalaise de Normalisation (ASN), coordinators of the U.S. and Senegalese standardization systems, to take this work to the global stage as an international standard.

Technical experts from 32 countries worldwide, from a wide variety of backgrounds such as academia, government, and manufacturers, are currently participating in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Project Committee (PC) 305 on Sustainable Non-Sewered Sanitation Systems. The experts are tasked with writing ISO 30500, a voluntary consensus standard that will specify the general safety and performance requirements for the design and testing of sanitation systems that are not connected to a sewer. Expected publication date for the standard is August/Sept 2018.

Once published, ISO 30500 can provide a sound basis for the development of national or local regulation for non-sewered systems. The standard will reflect the consensus of regulators, manufacturers and users from across the world. It gives regulators the benefit of the consolidated opinion of experts without having to call on their services directly. It also enables regulators and government to tap into a constantly updated source of information and experiences. Most importantly, ISO 30500 will drive innovation, meaning better toilets will be available in areas where infrastructure such as plumbing, electricity, and water are not feasible.

Ultimately, the reinvented toilets and publication of ISO 30500 will improve sanitation worldwide, and not only save lives, but ensure greater dignity, privacy, and personal safety—and allow for greater equality for women and girls.

Read more about International Women's Day and ANSI's Efforts to Develop the Reinvented Toilet.

Follow the conversation on social with Twitter hashtag #IWD2018.


We Can't Wait: A Report on Sanitation and Hygiene for Women and Girls (Domestos, WaterAid, WSSC)

Lack of sanitation for 2.4 billion people is undermining health improvements, (WHO, June 30, 2015)

Sanitation Fact Sheet (WHO, July 2017)

Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (UNICEF)


ANSI Nanotechnology Standards Panel