No place to pee

My bladder can’t take it anymore…my stomach is giving up too… desperate to attend nature’s call! But I am not a man, and I can’t take the liberty of relieving myself against a wall like the others. I am a woman, and when it comes to “doing my business,” I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wishing I were a man.

In a recent journey from Meerut to Delhi, I experienced this feeling more than ever before. Perhaps one excuse could be that I was travelling during the wee hours of the day when all other alternatives (like restrooms in restaurants, coffee shops etc) are not available.

Such is the plight of women throughout our country. And here I am not even speaking of world class amenities, but basic toilet facilities. Yes, it may be that the women from the upper classes are a little better off, because at least they can choose to hold on until they can rush to use a restroom in the nearest cafe or mall, but what about women from less well off and marginal sections of society?

Interestingly, it is not an uncommon sight to spot a glamorous upholstery showroom or bath interiors with window displays showing off swanky faucets and toilet seats, when adjacent to it would be public toilets in extremely unglamorous conditions, which can be best described by adjectives like stinky, smelly, dirty and unhygienic .

When you count the number of public toilets for women in India, studies reveal that even in areas of New Delhi there is only one public toilet for every 500 women. Among those who are most affected are those who live in urban slums and rural areas. These challenges continue to impact healthcare conditions among women and consequently their families. These conditions also restrict women’s mobility, their ability to work efficiently and their safety. Research indicates that many rapes in slums and rural India happen in areas where women have to walk a long way to reach the toilet.

On a positive side, today, campaigns like the “No Toilet, No Bride” efforts are making an impact, bringing about a sanitation revolution. Also, stories like that of the recently-wed Priyanka Bharti of Uttar Pradesh, who left her marital home protesting the lack of toilets in the household, have been surfacing and becoming more visible in the public realm. Overall, there is an increasing number of women demanding and even revolting for this basic right, pressurizing the government to take some bold actions. It is time that women stop compromising on their dignity and comfort and are able to pee in peace!

However to be fair, women aren’t the only ones suffering from the lack of functional public toilets. Sanitation is a greater challenge and needs greater attention. It is this which made us address Sanitation as a grand challenge at the second edition of Design Public, where field research and the breakout session lead us to arrive at innovative solutions to address this issue.

Apart from sanitation factor public toilets also say a lot about the way a city is planned and we can no more afford to ignore this while talking about development. As we continue to talk about smart cities, it is time we acknowledge that real development of cities cannot be restricted to graphs, buildings, roads and malls. It is about improvising the entire system by bettering lives of people.

About Neha Ahlawat

Neha Ahlawat is Associate Director- Innovation at the Center for Knowledge Societies. She is interested in exploring new approaches in ethnographic inquiry and design analysis for guiding social innovation and seeking integration between business development and design strategy.
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1 Response to No place to pee

  1. Muzammil Hussain says:

    Stumbled upon this product that allows women to relieve themselves against a wall like men, finally! Its not just the men who are to be blamed for the stinky walls anymore! 😀

    Jokes aside, the company claims that this product is helpful for women in pregnancy, army, old age, post surgery and even in giving urine samples. Pretty neat I say.

    Talking about public urinals for women, check out SHEWEE-INAL ( a unique concept that allows women to pee while standing in a women only enclosure. They say its “Sexual equality’s final solution”

    Although these are novel ideas, I wonder whether this would work for women in the Indian social scenario, both affluent and marginalized, in rural as well as urban settings. You think this might change the public sanitation behaviour in India for women in anyway?

    Ladies, your thoughts on this?

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