International Rescue Committee


Safe and Desirable Female Toilets in Refugee Camps

Help make refugee camp toilets safer for women and girls



In refugee camps and temporary accommodation across the world, toilets are often unlighted and without proper safety measures. For women and girls who rely upon them, broken locks and a lack of light bring danger and discomfort – especially at night. In emergency settings toilets are also often described as latrines: communal sanitation facilities.

To increase toilet usage, comfort and safety among female refugees, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is looking for ideas that can provide users with toilet facilities that feature automatic, dimmable lighting and lockable, tamper-proof security.  

The IRC is looking for ideas around three key categories of a long-term solution, each with prizes from $2,500 to $10,000 for the best proposals that meet enough of the criteria:

  • Lighting: automatic and dimmable lighting, irremovable, and powered by renewable energy,
  • Locking: methods to lock and provide secure, tamper-proof cubicles that offer privacy and comfort,
  • Alerting: systems for alerting when toilet is in use and when in need of maintenance.

Your solution should cost significantly less than $20 USD if focusing on one category only, and a maximum of $20 USD if it achieves all three categories.

If your solution or idea doesn’t quite fit these criteria but will help improve use, comfort, and security of toilet facilities in refugee camps, please submit your solution and it will be evaluated. Any improvement to the overall problem will be considered in this IRC Challenge.


This is a Prize Challenge, which has the following features:

  • The best solutions in each category can win prizes from $2,500 to $10,000 USD, as solely determined by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and evaluators. The IRC welcomes solutions that meet all of the categories as well as those that solve part of the wider problem around increasing toilet usage, comfort, and safety among female refugees.
  • The best solutions in a Prize Challenge have the opportunity to win some or all of the award pool of $30,000 USD, as solely determined by the Seeker and evaluators.
  • The IRC may also issue “Honorable Mention” recognitions for notable submissions that are not selected for monetary awards. 
  • To receive an award, the Solvers will not have to transfer their exclusive Intellectual Property (IP) rights to the Seeker. Rather, by submitting a proposal, the Solver grants to the Seeker a royalty-free, perpetual, and non-exclusive license to use any information included in this proposal, including for promotional purposes. The IRC will make awarded solutions freely available to other non-profit and for-profit organizations to help improve the state of displacement and refugee camps worldwide.

Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on August 1st, 2023. Late submissions will not be considered.


Background on the Problem

The IRC is soliciting new ideas for retrofitting existing latrines all for under US$20 per latrine, with cost considerations a critical part of success in this Challenge. Bansaga Saga, Environmental Health / WASH Technical Advisor at IRC stated: “Proposals must be affordable if we want it to be attractive and adoptable for project designers and donors/funders. Project costs will increase in an environment where funding is shrinking while needs keep growing, with the multiplication of disasters and crises increasingly leading to population displacement.”

This Challenge series aims to directly address problems in the lives of people affected by humanitarian crises across the world. Women in Bakasi Camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria have said that “We don’t feel comfortable at all using the toilet if the lock is broken” and “There is no way I feel comfortable to go that far a distance to change menstrual pads at night.”

Directly addressing residents’ concerns is of key importance in the IRC’s series of Challenges. Saga took direction directly from residents who shared in a Focus Group Discussion in Northeast Nigeria to inform this Challenge topic. Community members using unlighted and unlocked latrines report a fear of gender-based violence, sanitation issues, and animal/insect presence.

David Clatworthy, Uganda-based Technical WASH Advisor for the IRC, added “Women and girls living in camps have told us that they both wanted and needed lighting, locks, and better functionality.” Clatworthy added: “The cost of Solvers’ solutions to this Challenge is not just measured in dollars, though budget is important. Improvements in this area will need to hit the cost point while meeting time and access goals for building and use by camp residents.”

Saga, Clatworthy and the local teams’ experience were vital in writing the Challenge draft, its evaluation criteria, and providing a guideline for Solvers’ submissions.

“The IRC has engaged with staff from around the world to solicit long-standing problems that negatively impact the people they serve. The problem of female latrines quickly rose to the top of their list of priorities,” said Harry Sangree, Founder and CEO, SeaFreight Labs. “This problem is particularly difficult because it has been worked on by countless people in the humanitarian sector for a long time but it still remains a major issue. That’s because it is a hard problem. I am hoping that the multiple perspectives and diverse experiences of the HeroX crowd will bring valuable new ideas and insights to this issue.”