How to Design Gender-Friendly Toilets?

Gender-friendly toilets need to be safe, private, accessible, well-managed and adapted to the local context and cultural sensitivities. They should be designed to make it easy to manage menstrual hygiene practically and should provide enough space to meet the needs of caregivers. The design, planning and implementation process should involve the participation of women and girls throughout. 


Failing to plan, design or manage gender-friendly and accessible toilets restricts the movement of women and girls as well as older people and people with disabilities. It can affect their health and dignity and limit their ability to participate in public life. It can also increase their vulnerability to gender-based violence. A lack of suitable toilets can further constrain women and girls’ personal freedom and mobility, access to education, employment and/or health services. 

Women and girls (as well as transgender people, people with disabilities, and children) are at greater risk than men of sexual violence, harassment and physical violence when forced to defecate in the open or use unsafe, dark or badly located toilets. There have also been examples of boys being assaulted in public and school toilets, so safety considerations are needed for men and boys as well.   

Women and girls are more often the main caregivers of children, sick or older relatives and people with disabilities. They are more likely to accompany other people to the toilet and therefore need accessible, spacious and practical facilities to enable themselves and those they are caring for to use the toilets.  

Women and girls need private, accessible and well-designed toilets to be able to change their menstrual products and manage their menstrual hygiene at a practical level. They need water and soap to wash their hands, bodies and any reusable products and somewhere to dispose of menstrual products in a safe, culturally appropriate and dignified way. In overcrowded displacement contexts where privacy is scarce, toilets may be the only space available to girls and women for changing or disposing of their menstruation materials. A lack of access to safe, clean and appropriate toilets during menstruation can cause discomfort and psychological stress and add to the discrimination women and girls already face because of menstruation-related taboos. 

It is estimated that incontinence affects one in four women over the age of 35 years, compared with one in ten adult men. This can be associated with pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, older age, genetics, sexual violence, and the structure of the female urinary tract. People with incontinence need to be able to access a toilet more frequently and often with greater urgency.  

Women also cannot urinate as easily as men can, because they need to undress at least partially for both urination and defecation. This requires more space, privacy and time – especially during pregnancy and even more so when managing menstruation. These requirements increase for older women and those with disabilities.  


Toilets may initially be communal or shared in the acute emergency response phase to rapidly provide for large numbers of people. They should be converted into household sanitation facilities as soon as is feasible to improve user safety, security, convenience and dignity – particularly for women and girls.  

The design, implementation and management of gender-friendly public or shared toilets need to be adapted to each context. This requires a consideration of national guidelines, standards and resources for the provision of public or shared toilets and taking account of local preferences informed by the participation of women’s organisations and the views of women and girls from different groups, including women and girls with disabilities.  

Consultation should be the first step when designing or improving gender-friendly and MHM-supportive facilities or programmes. When people are consulted at the onset, there is often greater acceptance and utilisation of the facilities and resources by women and girls. Careful consultation is especially important when addressing solutions to taboo-laden topics like menstrual product disposal or handling of menstrual blood when washing and drying menstrual materials.  

Gender-friendly public and community toilets must:  

  1. Be safe and private: Toilet facilities must be in a safe location and have a clearly marked section for female toilets with a separate entrance to ensure all women are safe – and feel safe – whilst queuing to access facilities. This means that women, girls and men and boys should be queuing separately, not side by side. Merely fixing a different logo to a door is not gender segregation. The toilets must have robust, private cubicles with door locks, good lighting and non-transparent walls, doors and roofs (without any gaps). They should have trained attendants. Depending on the culture, it may be shameful or embarrassing to be seen entering toilet blocks. The more visible toilets are to other members of the community, the more challenging it may be for women and girls to access them. Sometimes, it may be helpful to combine female toilets with other ‘women-only’ facilities, such as showers and laundry areas, so that it is less apparent why a person is entering a facility.  
  1. Cater for menstrual and other hygiene requirements: This includes providing water and soap (ideally inside the cubicle to allow for discretely washing hands and bodies), the provision of locally acceptable anal cleansing material and access to menstrual products and proper disposal options, as well as practical features such as a hook and shelf for stowing clothes, bags and pads, while managing changing menstrual materials. The facilities need to be female-segregated (separated by distance or screening, not just by a sign on the door) and, ideally, provide private areas for personal hygiene that include spaces for changing, washing and drying underwear and reusable menstrual products. If these areas are not available, the provision of additional materials for washing and drying at home may be required (such as buckets, extra soap, a clothesline and pegs and leak-proof bags). Safe disposal of used products must be provided (inside the toilet, if possible) to prevent blockages of sewage pipes or difficulties in desludging pits or septic tanks clogged with menstrual materials. 
  1. Be accessible to all users: Toilet facilities need to be at a reasonable distance from homes or activity centres, be reachable via a safe and accessible path and have at least one cubicle inclusive of all users. This means design features like extra space inside, a wider door, a seat, handrails to help the person sit and get up, or handrails at the entrance. 
  1. Be affordable and available when needed: Public toilets need enough cubicles to avoid long queues (even if this means allocating extra space and cubicles for women), be open when needed and have an affordable tariff or be free.  
  1. Be well maintained and managed: Toilet facilities need adequate management arrangements and cleaning and maintenance budgets, safe management of faecal, liquid and solid waste including private and discrete collection and transfer and end-disposal of menstrual waste.  
  1. Meet the requirements of caregivers and parents: Have a cubicle that allows sufficient space for parents and caregivers and, if possible,  a baby changing station. 

Female-Friendly Toilet Design Source: Clatworthy, D., Sommer, M., Schmitt, M. 2017.

Process & Good Practice

  • Actively involve women and girls in the assessment, planning, design, implementation (and upgrading) of toilets to meet gender-friendly requirements. Identify female-friendly features to prioritise in any context. This should include women and girls with different kinds of disabilities, to ensure the facilities also meet their needs.  
  • Ensure that public or shared facilities are accessible, gender-segregated, well-maintained (including cleaning, re-stocking of materials and minor repairs) and close to where people live. 
  • Provide privacy and security (i.e. latrines with solid, non-transparent walls, lockable doors, roof coverage on latrines built on terraces, lighting at night and screened-unit blocks). 
  • Ensure access to a sustainable supply of locally acceptable menstrual hygiene materials including information on their correct use. If they are disposable, appropriate disposal options (from disposal to collection, transfer and end disposal) must be provided, communicated and managed. If they are reusable, communicate how to wash, dry and store them. 
  • Provide disposal bins (with a lid) for the discrete disposal of menstrual hygiene materials and other wastes (such as baby nappies) or a chute to an outside collection bin. Ensure the discrete and safe collection and transfer and safe final disposal of waste (e.g. an incinerator, or integration with general waste disposal). 
  • Ensure that toilets are sufficiently spacious to allow parents and caregivers to also enter the cubicle and move around to provide support. 
  • Provide washing facilities with water and soap inside the cubicle and/or opportunities for personal hygiene and washing and drying of reusable menstrual hygiene products and stained clothes. Provide discreet drainage so that water with menstrual blood cannot be seen. 
  • Consider providing a mirror so that women can check their clothes before leaving as well as a hook and a shelf inside the facility to allow stowing of e.g. a bag, books, pads, or clothes safely (without touching the ground). 

Rob Gensch
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s)
Tobias Ulbrich
Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association (BORDA)
Michelle Farrington
Ina Jurga
WASH United
Chelsea Giles-Hansen
Sarah House

Key Resources and Tools

Inclusive WASH. Menstrual Hygiene Management Friendly and Accessible WASH Facilities for Emergencies. Manual for Template Designs

Template designs for inclusive emergency WASH facilities (trench latrine block, raised latrine block, bathing block)…

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Checklist. Minimum Standards for Inclusive MHM-Friendly Bathing Areas

Checklists for Inclusive MHM-friendly latrines, bathing areas and solid waste facilities

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Checklist. Minimum Standards for Inclusive MHM-Friendly Solid Waste Facilities

Checklists for Inclusive MHM-friendly latrines, bathing areas and solid waste facilities

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Global Menstrual Hygiene Management Experiences. Learning from other National Societies

Collection of Various Case Studies on MHM

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Female-Friendly Public and Community Toilets. A Guide for Planners and Decision-Makers

Guidance to understand and address requirements of women and girls using public and community toilets

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A Toolkit for Integrating Menstrual Hygiene Management into Humanitarian Response

Toolbox to support integration of MHM (incl. female-friendly WASH facilities) into existing humanitarian programming

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Menstrual Disposal, Waste Management and Laundering in Emergencies. A Compendium

Guidance on often overlooked aspects of menstrual disposal and waste management in MHM response

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Violence, Gender and WASH: Practitioner Toolkit - Making Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Safer Through Improved Programming and Services

Overview of protection, gender and inclusion (PGI) issues and practicalities to consider when assessing, designing,…

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Protection, Gender and Inclusion in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion. Guidance Note

Overview of protection, gender and inclusion (PGI) issues and practicalities to consider when assessing, designing,…

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Sani Tweaks. Best Practices in Sanitation

Practical recommendations with various small ‘tweaks’ to improve toilet designs and ensure privacy, dignity and…

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Screened Toilet, Bathing and Menstruation Units for the Earthquake in NWFP, Pakistan

Example of screened toilet, bathing and laundry units from Pakistan

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