Foldable, Portable Toilet Tackles Sexual Assault in Refugee Camps

The Night Loo was designed to help women avoid potentially dangerous situations inside refugee camps.
Jessica Miley

A product design student is tackling the issue of sexual assault in refugee camps with an unusual approach. Anna Meddaugh was inspired to make the Night Loo after reading about the experience of women and girls being sexually assaulted in refugee camps when using the toilet at night. 

Meddaugh heard that adult diapers had become a sought-after item because women were too scared to leave the safety of their accommodation at night. The accounts of women being harassed and assaulted haunted Meddaugh. 

Testimony of assaults haunted designer

"It was just too much, it was just so upsetting," Meddaugh told A Plus. "Of all the things I take for granted in my life, going to the bathroom safely whenever I want to is definitely one of those things." 

Meddaugh who had previously worked in public health went back to school to study product design. While in a class at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, she was given a brief to solve a problem for displaced people.

Attacks under-reported in refugee camps 

The idea of a portable toilet that could be used by women and girls in the safety of their accommodation made sense. Her teachers were less sure, asking her to show more evidence of the assaults. 

But like many sexual assaults, many of these instances aren’t reported or recorded and so Meddaugh had to make her case that the testimony’ was enough evidence. "It's not about statistics," Meddaugh said.

"There are stories and we know it's severely underreported... I tried to put myself in the place of somebody who is potentially facing violence just trying to take care of such a basic human need. At that point, I just thought, well, 'That's what I need to work on.'" 

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Absorbent pad makes loo easy to use

The initial designs of the Night Loo revolved around using a discarded water bottle to use as a receptacle. Meddaugh wanted to design an object that could be created from waste materials. She focussed on trying to find absorbent materials that could go into the bottle making it a practical portable toilet. 

Foldable, Portable Toilet Tackles Sexual Assault in Refugee Camps
Source: NightLoo

However, she soon discovered the bottle was unwieldy to use and hard to clean. She then moved on to thinking about a product that could open close, but lie flat for shipping. 

Foldable, Portable Toilet Tackles Sexual Assault in Refugee Camps
Source: Stephen Swintek

The final design is made from silicone that the user folds into a box shape. Flaps close the box after use and a packet containing a super-absorbent polymer can be dropped in that turns liquids into a dry powder in just ten seconds. 

Designer seeks partners to make the concept a reality

The powder eliminates odors and reduces the risk of spills. The polymer is housed inside a lining that once used can be easily discarded in into a latrine in the morning. 

Foldable, Portable Toilet Tackles Sexual Assault in Refugee Camps
Source: NightLoo

Meddaugh is now looking for partners to start to manufacture the product which could be distributed through refugee camps around the world. While the product is a great way to help reduce violence against women, it is important that the conversation doesn’t fall back to making women responsible for their safety when the problem of the assault stems from the attackers, to begin with.