Why women in Pune left with no ‘right to pee’

Most of the women have to pay between Rs 1 to Rs 5 for toilet use while it is free for men. Sometimes there is no caretaker in the toilet blocks for women thus posing a security risk.

pune Updated: Jul 06, 2017 16:02 IST
Shrinivas Deshpande
Shrinivas Deshpande
Hindustan Times, Pune
The ladies toilet at Juna Bazar is in a miserable state. Many of the city’s toilets for women lack basic amenities such as proper door latches. (Pratham Gokhale / HT Photo)

The grossly inadequate number of toilets for women in Pune is not only a reflection of ‘gender insensitiveness’ and ‘gender blind’ attitude among politicians and civic planners but also exerts a heavy price on health of the women of Pune.

By its own admission, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) which is busy in beautification projects in parts of the city under the ‘Smart City’ initiative, does not have enough toilets for women in the city. There are barely 741 latrines and 373 urinals in the city for a population of 3.1 million. Of these, 348 are public toilet blocks and 398 are community toilet blocks in the city, Suresh Jagtap, head of the PMC’s Solid Waste Management department told Hindustan Times.

Pune has 373 urinals for a population of 3.1 million. These include 112 public toilets and 517 community toilets cleaned by caretakers. Payment per use usually varies between Rs 1 to Rs 5

This insensitivity on the part of the PMC has upset womens’ organisations, some of which have undertaken a campaign for more urinals for working women in Pune who have to travel for long distances for their livelihood.“All over the city there is gender bias in urban planning. The gender insensitiveness and a gender blind attitude should go,” said Mumtaj Sheikh, Convenor of the ‘Right to Pee’ campaign that began in 2011 under the Community Resource Organisation’s (CORO) Grass Root Fellowship Programme. This campaign pursues a vision for more public toilets and amenities for women. Their demand is for advanced sanitation spaces with changing rooms, bathrooms and toilets accessible to all women.

According to Sheikh, women have to pay between Rs 1 to Rs 5 for toilet use while it is free for men. Sometimes there is no caretaker in the toilet blocks for women thus posing a security risk. Mostly poor women from the un-organised sectors use these toilets.They can't afford it every time and therefore, the toilets should be free for them, she said.“Our suggestion is to create free urinals for which we have a design. Our design is useful not only for women but also for children, senior citizens, transgenders and the physically challenged, she said. “Transgenders may face many problems while using public toilets, but our model will take care of them,” she added.

In many places, the toilet blocks are poorly maintained, and often without lights which makes them dark and unsafe. The civic administration also needs to ensure that the toilets are managed by women not by men. In some cases, the toilet blocks are located in remote areas, away from the main roads, and there is an absence of signboards. Many women feel insecure to use these facilities as the door latch is often broken or missing.

Recently, this organisation held its ‘Right to Pee convention’ and the first issue that was discussed is related to transgenders. “There is a directive from the Supreme Court that separate toilets should be constructed for transgenders. But none of them is ready to implement,” Sheikh said.She said that the aim should not be just to construct toilets but help women secure their basic right. “What does a women need in a toilet? Water, wash basin, dustbin, hooks for hanging handbag and an alarm bell for emergencies.This issue is closely linked to women's dignity. We must look at how comfortable women feel in the city, especially when concepts like smart cities are coming up,” she said.

‘Abhivyakti’ is another women’s welfare organisation which has taken up this issue. It not only, organized an agitation in front of the Pune Municipal Corporation headquarters at Shivajinagar, but also submitted a memorandum to Additional Commissioner Shital Ugale.Social activist Shobha Bansode said there are countless stories of women who have faced difficulties in finding a place to use the washroom in Pune. “Men do not have such a hard time relieving themselves while travelling long distances on highways and roads. But the case is different for women,” she said.

She pointed out that many women do not drink liquids in order avoid going to the bathroom, and become dehydrated as a result.Activist Alka Joshi said, “The public urinals which are available, are free for men, but not for women, They are charged illegally by male attendees. The reason behind this is that women’s toilets need more resources, like a door for privacy. But these resources are not available our survey shows”. She pointed out that public toilets often do not even have separate dustbins to throw sanitary napkins.“Almost every woman you speak to, across different income levels and age groups, will give you stories of how they had to manage in situations where they had to experience extreme discomfort because of lack of access to toilets,” Joshi said.

First Published: Jul 06, 2017 15:45 IST