This Woman's Innovative Toilet Design Could Save Countless Lives (And The Environment)


Photo Courtesy of inhabitat.com

In today’s society, a new toilet design isn’t something to be fawned over. That is, until you realize what to many of us seems like a common household item is an unattainable luxury to billions of people around the world living without access to improved sanitation facilities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2.5 billion people live without access to improved sanitation facilities, which are defined as having a flush or pour toilet, a ventilated improved pit latrine, pit latrine with a slab or a composting toilet. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly 35 percent of the world’s population that is susceptible to deadly fecal-oral diseases, like diarrhea, that kill millions every year.

In an effort to resolve this issue, Cambridge, Massachusetts entrepreneur Diana Yousef and her team at startup change:WATER Labs are close to launching an innovative waterless toilet that will help alleviate the aforementioned dismal sanitary conditions around the world.

"Diana Yousef and her team at startup change:WATER Labs are close to launching an innovative waterless toilet that will help alleviate the aforementioned dismal sanitary conditions around the world." Photo Courtesy of Cartier Women's Initiative Awards

“Sanitation is so fundamental to every community,” says Yousef. “In the developed world, we take it for granted, but from Mumbai to Dubai to Fort Lauderdale, when toilets aren’t available or sewage infrastructure is non-existent or breaking down, the problems of sewage management can be very scary.”

The new toilet uses an innovative polymer pouch that aggressively evaporates the liquid of human waste, getting rid of more than 95 percent of the waste without the need for power or heat. As Yousef puts it, “We essentially shrink-wrap crap.” A single toilet can get rid of the daily waste of 15-20 people and can get rid of a day’s worth of waste from a single person in about an hour. Moreover, the polymer pouch used in the toilet is very cost effective. It takes only $0.40 worth of the material to vaporize the waste of 20 people for an entire month.

From an environmental standpoint, the toilet also makes sense as methane makes up 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is extremely potent—about 30 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Open sewage contributes 4-6 percent of man-made methane emissions and once in production, Yousef's innovative toilet will help stop the release of the gas substantially, producing nothing more than water vapor. She estimates that one day, her toilet will limit the amount of methane emissions equal to the carbon capture capacity of a forest the size of Spain.

Yousef’s invention will also help with a large problem facing women in areas that lack improved sanitation. A staggering number of women drop out of school due to a lack of safe toilets. Not only do young women not feel comfortable without access to a proper toilet when they begin their periods, but women also put themselves in a vulnerable position to being raped or abused without a proper facility to use the toilet.

One region hit very hard by these effects in India, where nearly 55 percent of the population, or roughly 597 million households, do not have proper sanitation access. Because of this, 23 percent of young women drop out of school, a problem that does not bode well for the future of women in India, who are already highly marginalized. The women in India living without proper sanitation also face an increased risk of being attacked. 30 percent of women living in these conditions have been physically or sexually assaulted due to this problem, something Yousef believes is unacceptable in today’s society and something she is passionate about improving.

Although not yet in mass production, the first prototype of the toilet will be put into field testing this spring on a Hopi Indian reservation in Utah. Final adjustments and tests are currently in progress on the prototype to get it ready for field tests and Yousef is hopeful to transition to the production stage shortly thereafter.

"Yousef’s innovative toilet will help stop the release of the gas substantially, producing nothing more than water vapor." Photo Courtesy of the Boston Globe

For her novel invention, Yousef has been selected from nearly 3,000 applicants from 30 countries as one of the eighteen finalists for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, an international business plan competition created in 2006 to identify, support and encourage projects by women entrepreneurs. She will receive $30,000 in funding and travel to Singapore to compete to become one of the six overall winners who will be awarded $100,000.

"Yousef has been selected from nearly 3,000 applicants as one of the eighteen finalists for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards."

Photo Courtesy of TheEditorial

Beyond looking to solve a global sanitation and women’s safety issue, there was another reason for Yousef starting her own company—to be a great role model for her two daughters. Having faced discrimination in her career for being a woman, she wants to teach her girls that they can be completely in charge of their own paths.

She admits starting change:WATER Labs wasn’t an easy undertaking, but she realized she wanted to do something important and be the ‘mistress of her own destiny.’

Adding to the challenges of starting her company, a recent report from Fit Small Business ranked Massachusetts 46 out of 50 in terms of support given to female entrepreneurs. Yousef doesn’t necessarily feel that information is true though, believing the Boston area has an abundance of resources available for her to develop her business further. For Yousef specifically, that may be due to the fact that her company falls into the biochemistry and health sectors, two areas known for success in Boston. What’s also interesting to note is that all three of the North American finalists selected for this year’s Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards are from the Boston area, providing another piece of evidence that Massachusetts may not be as unsupportive for female entrepreneurs as many think.

As change:WATER Labs progresses and one day brings its innovative toilet solution to the many in need across the world, Yousef’s impact will not only inspire her daughters, but will reach the future female leaders across the world that will one day make an impact of their own.

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Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."