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#SanitationUnblocked: Taking action to make school sanitation a global priority

Around the world, 698 million school children don’t have access to basic sanitation. For this World Toilet Day, we asked five leading thinkers how this is impacting the next generation and what cross-sector action is needed to change it.

This year, the global pandemic saw more than 1 billion students around the world kept out of school as facilities closed to keep children safe.

Teachers pivoted quickly and lessons went online. But the social, developmental and wellbeing benefits that children get in a physical classroom environment saw 105 of the world’s countries making the reopening of schools a government priority.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities were a crucial part of getting children back to class safely. Around the world, school administrators took the opportunity to improve access to soap and handwashing, and to put in place procedures for sanitising surfaces and cleaning toilet facilities.

Access to a clean, safe school toilet is a right, not a privilege

The importance of access to clean, safe toilets in schools may be a new lesson for some, but not for Domestos. The brand has long championed hygienic, well-maintained school toilets as a right, not a privilege.

Over the past decade, the brand’s social mission has focused on its goal of helping more than 25 million people to access cleaner, safer toilets by 2020. As well as building infrastructure and improving access to make existing toilets cleaner and safer, it has created community-led hygiene programmes. These have included a programme which works with school facilities teams to help children get access to cleaner, safer toilets and train janitors to keep the toilets clean and well maintained. The programme included in-school and online resources to teach the next generation about the importance of hygiene and sanitation.

The result of these efforts meant that by 2019 Domestos’s social mission had exceeded its target and improved access to sanitation for 28 million people.

“Surpassing our original target and reaching 28 million people is a great achievement and one that has only been possible through our partnerships and collaborations around the world. But there is a great deal more to do,” says Unilever’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Rebecca Marmot. “Today, a staggering 698 million children around the world do not have access to basic sanitation at school.”

And that doesn’t just have implications for the health of school students, it can also create a barrier to attendance. In South Asia, the impact of inadequate sanitation on the education of adolescent girls means one in three misses school days each month due to lack of privacy and access to water to wash their hands after changing their sanitary towels.

For this World Toilet Day, Domestos asked five leading experts in water, sanitation and hygiene to share their learnings from working to improve sanitation in schools and the actions they’d like to see to achieve clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.

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