Talking about poo should not be taboo

This week’s post comes from salt’s Julia, who has been working hard on World Toilet Day. “We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or […]

This week’s post comes from salt’s Julia, who has been working hard on World Toilet Day.

“We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation and basic health care,” Kofi Annan, United Nationals Secretary-General.

When I was young, I remember being told that it was not polite to talk about what happens on the other side of the bathroom door. Of course, all the boys my age couldn’t resist chuckling over a toilet joke and were sent to the naughty corner by the teacher. It was simply anti-social to talk about such things.

Not much has changed. It is still taboo to talk about poo, toilets, waste and sewage but it’s about time we all started.

I never have to think twice about finding a bathroom when nature calls, but over the past few months, I’ve realised just how many people do. There are 2.6 billion people around the world who do not have access to proper sanitation – and by that I mean a clean and functioning toilet. That’s two fifths of the world’s population.

By ignoring the topic, are we ignoring the issue? We have turned into a society that doesn’t like to speak about toilets and waste publically and this impacts how we draw public attention to this very real issue.

Basic sanitation should be a human right. We need to change perceptions about sanitation, give people the license to talk sh*t and get them involved in the debate.

Last month, the global sanitation community did an incredible job of starting conversations about sanitation in the public domain over World Toilet Day. The day established by Jack Sim, Founder of the World Toilet Organization (WTO) was established to get people talking about the sanitation crisis – from governments and policy makers, to corporations, to you and me.

This World Toilet Day it has been terrific to see so many groups come together to raise the issue and start building awareness for the sanitation crisis. Perhaps the most memorable communication on the day was from, a collaborative group of NGOs and foundations, – ‘Matt Damon Talks Sh*t For Global Sanitation Awareness’. The video was posted and shared across public health and news websites and social media.

At the same time, we saw other organisations step up to the plate, including Domestos (our client), that announced its commitment to improving sanitation on a global scale, starting with the opening of the world’s first Domestos Toilet Academy, in partnership with the World Toilet Organization.

I am a big believer in what can be achieved when different organisations and groups come together to work towards a common goal. By sharing resources (products, supply chain, people, etc.), and expertise (consumer understanding, cultural understanding, innovation, technology etc.), so much more can be achieved.

The benefit of such collaborations don’t stop with community or societal benefits, it helps to build the partners’ brands through brand equity and market development; a clear win-win for everyone.

I also believe that it is only through collaborative, complementary efforts that progress can be accelerated towards the Millennium Development Goal for Sanitation, the goal lagging the furthest behind. Even if goals are not reached, ambition is needed to enact change and make measureable progress.

But if this is going to be a global ‘movement’ it is not only up to the corporations and NGOs, we all have our role in putting the spotlight on something that we take for granted every day.

So next time you’re busting to go to the loo, enjoy the dignity of having a private toilet that you know will remove and treat your waste at a sewage plant, and think of the billions of people who would love to swap ‘seats’ with you, who deserve that same dignity.


Photo credit: Eli Duke