This blog was updated on 11/14/2023.
Toilets aren’t a glamorous topic to talk about. But they are an important one.
There are almost 4 billion people around the world living without safe access to toilets. How do they manage? Some wait until night or walk long distances to find a private place to go. Some use shared bathrooms that aren’t clean. Some are forced to go out in the open near their homes, which creates a major public health hazard. Globally, every day, 700 children die just from diarrhea because of unsafe water and sanitation — that’s one child every two minutes.
In the world’s largest refugee settlement, located in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the lack of toilets makes life even harder than it already is for the Rohingya people — especially for girls and women. One toilet is being used by more than 100 people in many places in the camp. Girls have to manage their periods with hardly any privacy and little water. There are no child-friendly facilities or handwashing stations, so girls often have to eat without washing their hands first, putting their health further at risk.
In honor of World Toilet Day, let’s hear what six girls in Cox’s Bazar have to say about the toilet crisis.
“There is no toilet here and no open places, so you have to go in front of people,” Senowara says. “The water is stinky and there is nowhere to get washed.”
Senowara fled the violence in Myanmar with her mother and sister. She never imagined living in such difficult circumstances.
“I need to go to toilet frequently, especially at night,” Nurjahan said, referring to when she was pregnant. She fled Myanmar after her husband was killed there. “Since there is no toilet here, I have to find my way up the hill at night to relieve myself.”
“In the morning, all the children openly defecate by the tent,” Laila says. “The men go to the toilet, but we wait until night to go. I take my cousin, Munaza, with me.”
“I eat less so I don’t need to go very often,” Modina, who came to Cox’s Bazar with her two young daughters, says. “My children use open places and at night I go to the jungle. I don’t feel shy, I have overcome my shyness.”
“I have to walk a long way to use the toilet at night,” Fatema says. “During the day, it’s really hard because I’m all alone and there is no one here to help us. My parents are old and live with my brother in a different camp.”
“If I need to use the toilet, I have to wear a veil and be accompanied by one of my brothers,” Rahana says. “It is really hard using the toilet with a veil on, but we have no choice because it is part of our culture. If people see us using the toilet, we feel shy and outsiders laugh at us, so I prefer to wait until it is dark.”
With your support, Plan International is working in Cox’s Bazar to build additional toilets and female-friendly spaces. We’ve provided hygiene kits to girls and women so they can wash their hands and stay healthy. But with 1 million people living in the settlement, there’s a lot more work to do.
No matter where you live, you need a toilet. It’s a matter of health, safety and basic human dignity. Will you help protect girls and give them the safe spaces and supplies they need?