Plus & Minus

“A weekly column: Plus&Minus will be published in Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live. This will speak to the ordinary reader on contemporary economic issues in a simple format”.

    Inequality in Access of Toilets for Women
    Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live, August 03, 2009

By Pradeep S Mehta

The Jaipur Municipal Corporation will soon have one third women councilors. Perhaps they will read this article and take appropriate steps to restore equal rights for women in our public toilet facilities. Because, the approach to designing and building public toilet is gender-blind. Wherever you go, work, shopping malls, movies, restaurants and hotels, the public toilet facility for men and women are the same. Is that sensible and fair?

Research has shown that women need more time than men, when visiting wash rooms. For the record, men take 35 seconds to use a urinal, while women take a minimum of 60 seconds to use a loo. Research undertaken in Japan, constituting what could accurately be described as time and motion studies – suggests that women take twice as long as men to go to the loo, and that’s excluding time taken in washing their hands afterwards.

In many older buildings, little or no provision was made for women because few would work in or visit them. Increased gender equality in employment and other spheres of life has impelled change. Until the 1980s, building codes for stadiums in the United States stipulated more toilets for men, on the assumption that most sports fans were male. A study in 2008 showed that on the New York Hilton’s ballroom floor, the women’s room had four female stalls, compared to six stalls and six urinals in the men’s room.

But potty parity laws and ever changing plumbing codes promise relief. It says that equal and equitable provision of washroom facilities for women and men should be provided within a public space. It does not always mean that there will be the same number of toilets for women and men but is measured by waiting times. As, women takes double the time as men do, hence a 2:1 or 3:1 female-male ratio of toilets is required.

Another malpractice which can be seen in most of the developing and under-developed nations like India is that women have to do all the necessary cleaning work for the community toilets but they don’t have toilet facilities for themselves. Where do they go when wanting to relieve themselves?

According to a survey conducted in Osmania University, Hyderabad other common problems faced by the women are the prevalence of unhygienic conditions, bad smell, caretaker being male, joint infrastructure (both male and female facilities under one roof, with a partition), and feeling of insecurity.

Therefore, in order to combat these issues the government should take reform action. It could make it mandatory for companies, who show interest in constructing, repairing and maintaining community toilet centres in lucrative areas, to also do the same in slum and resettlement areas. Women should demand safe and hygienic toilets and lastly, places of public assembly (hotels, malls, theatres, stadiums, among others) have two women’s toilet fixtures for every one devoted to men to offset the extra time women take in the restroom and to slowly undo decades of male-dominated design and construction.

In this way, by providing equal facilities to both men and women, we will be free from the evils of the gender-insensitive practices of the society. Are our elected representatives, architects and builders listening?

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