Most of us in Australia understand the importance of giving. It’s easy to see the need for donating to cancer research, so we hold events to raise funds. When there’s a need for food drive donations, we put a few bits and pieces together to fill the pantries of those doing it tough. However there are issues that hold just as much importance and are equally as worthy but with less awareness – issues like the Global Sanitation Crisis.

Often times we readily understand the need for safe water or even food access, but the need for hygiene and sanitation is perhaps a little harder to grasp.

A conversation that members of the Thankyou team and I had with a field worker in Cambodia really brought home to us how urgent the need for sanitation is.

As we listened, this worker began openly sharing horrific stories of women being attacked after leaving the safety of their village to find a toilet. I remember standing there in disbelief as we considered the harsh realities these women faced. Suddenly the need for sanitation got urgent and the need to help restore the dignity of these women became immediate.

I left that village with my heart broken, and thinking of the lack of education around this issue. It’s important that we don’t cast a blind eye to the things that are hard, awkward or uncomfortable. It isn’t glamorous and yes, it’s messy. I guess that’s why for so long there’s been silence around the topic (you don’t see a whole lot of women holding toilet parties to raise funds for sanitation!).

I discovered that the broader stats around hygiene and sanitation are confronting to say the least.  An estimated 2.5 billion people, which equates to roughly one third of the world’s population, don’t have access to a toilet – a fixture in our bathrooms at home that for most of us we have never had to think about not having.

Every day there are people around the globe who are forced to defecate in open pit latrines, or worst still, even in an open field, and sadly it’s too often women who are left most vulnerable by this.

Sanitation is a basic human right, essential to the dignity of humanity, and this is why we choose to talk about the sanitation crisis and it’s the reason we launched our body care range. It’s been proven that for a holistic and sustainable solution that minimises the effects of illness and disease, sanitation programs must be implemented alongside water and food programs.

The current state of the issue shows that we still have a long way to go and I believe a key problem is awareness. Quite simply, not enough people understand that sanitation is a vital piece of the poverty solution puzzle.

One of the most impactful things that I’ve learnt through our work in developing countries is that these women are just like us. We have the same needs, the same immediate desires, and we love and care the same.

With this year’s theme for International Women’s Day being ‘Make it Happen’, we’re reminded that change starts with us. It starts by educating ourselves on the big issues that exist and the part we can play to instigate change.

Together, we can make it happen.

Watch Leena’s story to see how access to hygiene and sanitation programs can empower women to be change makers in their communities.

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