Hygiene - a precondition for personal development

Even when not directly related to disease, the ability to maintain a socially acceptable level of personal hygiene directly impacts the well-being, dignity and participation of an individual in society. In developing countries, different requirements for men and women with regards to modesty, personal security, and the disproportionate burden of unpaid labor are often linked to hygiene. This results in women and girls being excluded from school, work and community activities.

Women and girls living in the poorest rural areas are usually the ones that are responsible for managing the household water supply and will often have to walk several kilometers to collect water for their families. Women also tend to assist in meeting the hygiene needs of men, children and the elderly while being responsible for keeping the home environment clean. Improved access to water and sanitation will be transformative for these women and girls, giving them more time for education, participation in the community, and engaging in activities that generate income for their families and societies.

Also in developed countries, lacking the means or opportunity to take care of your personal hygiene impacts the ability to improve your social situation and well-being.

Personal security is a less discussed factor. “Women and girls who are visibly unwashed may be more vulnerable to personal violation, since [un]cleanliness is a signifier of social vulnerability and poverty more generally. These needs are rarely reflected in public sanitation projects or in current sanitation promotion efforts,” write Burt, Nelson and Ray in the 2016 UN Women discussion paper Towards Gender Equality Through Sanitation Access.

Also in developed countries, lacking the means or opportunity to take care of your personal hygiene impacts your social situation and well-being. Many people can relate to a situation where you are far from a toilet and need to go, or when there is nowhere to dispose of a sanitary pad. The latter forces women and girls to hide used pads in their purse or school bag which is a source of huge indignity, according to WSSCC research.

Two girls with soap on their hands (photo)