Islamic Relief’s Maria Virginia Jones explores why toilets deserve celebration – and how we are working to end open defecation in the Philippines.

No, your eyes are definitely not playing tricks on you. I really am passionate about celebrating our toilets. Most people give me funny looks when I say that, and may even cringe at the mere mention of the humble can. Even in a world where one billion people do not have access to a latrine, few of us are comfortable voicing aloud that many people are still forced to go out in the open.

Momentum on work to halt open defecation

Yet over the years, water and sanitation advocates worked hard to raise awareness of the need to take action in stopping open defecation. Last year, their calls gained new momentum when the United Nations declared World Toilet Day to promote zero open defecation. Today, communities across the globe are celebrating this much-needed day, and talking openly about the issue – which, here in the Philippines, is a very big deal.

Everyone has a right to a safe and private toilet, but eight million Filipinos are denied this right. Without access to a latrine, it can compromise their dignity and personal safety – for females in particular – and even create health concerns both for the individual and the wider community.

Equity and dignity for Bantayan residents

Communal toilets were showcased in our community competition.

Communal toilets were showcased in our community competition.

Islamic Relief, in partnership with UNICEF, is therefore joining Filipino communities in celebrating the lavatory today. Anchored on the theme ‘Equity and Dignity’, our celebrations are bringing together residents of nine barangays (village areas) in Bantayan municipality, to help put an end to open defecation.

A highlight is the toilet makeover contest where the participating barangays get to showcase their communal toilets. The latrines are judged on frequency of use, cleanliness, maintenance, and the durability of the structure – as a way to underline the importance of having a safe and clean toilet.

Another aspect of the celebrations will be working with elementary students and school officials in the village areas. Teachers will be talking to children about the importance of toilets, and encouraging them to share the message with their families and wider communities.

As well as installing toilets for displaced communities, Islamic Relief works with the rural sanitary inspectors of Bantayan municipality to promote good hygiene practices, and end open defecation.