*first published on Feminism in India
By Deboleena Sengupta and Mayuri Bhattacharjee
We don’t know whether you need the latest iPad or the latest Jhumpa Lahiri book. We don’t know whether you need adrak chai or double espresso to wake up. But, we definitely know that you’ll need a toilet. Everyday. No exceptions.
We have learned about the public-private divide from our classes on feminism, wherein the former is supposed to be occupied by men and the latter by women. But things are changing, slowly but steadily. Women are constantly negotiating and struggling within their daily lives to break free from demeaning patriarchal norms and power structures. However, the battle is far from won. Women all over suffer everyday due to the lack of a basic necessity like a toilet.
Society has conditioned women not to talk toilets openly and keep the ‘toilet-talk’ confined to a women-only environment. Why? Because pee and poop involves private parts which ought to be covered and guarded. Well, we were taught not to talk about menstruation. But, now we are and holding placards which say #HappyToBleed. And when we talk about menstruation we must talk toilets, because 25% of school girls dropout in India when they reach puberty. The reason: their schools don’t have separate toilets.
Now, let us come back to public toilets in urban areas, an area where we are working. Public toilets have an impact on women’s ease of mobility. But when we venture outside in our towns and cities for work or to loiter we realize how female-unfriendly public spaces are. You will find a lot of standalone free urinals for men, but you will struggle to find urinals for women. This could be attributed to the presumption that there are fewer women in public spaces. It’s ridiculous! Apart from an ever increasing female white-collared workforce, a huge number of women from the poorer groups have been working in public spaces for years; as hawkers, sweepers, vendors and domestic helps. The lack of public toilets for women scream these, “Why didn’t you pee before leaving the house?” or “Why did you leave the house at all?”
The problems in existing public toilets
Building toilets for women isn’t enough; they have to be secure, clean, accessible and must provide basic facilities like sanitary napkin vending machines and disposal bins. And that’s where Indian cities and towns are failing terribly.
A heritage medical college where men and women come for treatment has some of the dirtiest loos we have seen. The irony is that despite being well aware of the various medical problems women face due to unclean toilets; clean toilets are non-existent even in the imagination of the medical authority. Meanwhile, sometimes toilets are built but locked the very next day after inauguration.
Some toilets….Read the full article here.