On International Women's Day, FPJ Starts A Campaign For Mumbai Women's Right To Pee

On International Women's Day, FPJ Starts A Campaign For Mumbai Women's Right To Pee

There is one public toilet seat for every 1,500 women, compared to 600 men

Kamal MishraUpdated: Friday, March 08, 2024, 08:24 AM IST
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“I prefer to remain thirsty while travelling in local trains. I do not drink water even if it is with me. That is because of lack proper toilet facilities at stations,” says Lata Argade, a resident of Dombivli and general secretary of the Suburban Passengers’ Association.

Argade’s plight is shared by lakhs of women in Mumbai. A city that takes pride in being the commercial capital of the country cannot provide adequate toilet facilities for its women. The problem faced by working women is particularly acute. About 12 years ago, an organisation called the Community Outreach Recognition and Opportunity (CORO) started a ‘Right to Pee’ campaign. But the response of the authorities has been very poor.

According to CORO, only one in three public toilet seats in Mumbai is designated for women. “Women not only encounter fewer toilets but also face higher charges for the same usage. The hygiene and safety of public toilets further compound these challenges, highlighting the need for improved urban sanitation and equal rights to dignity. Stakeholders must address these issues to ensure that women’s rights to health and access to public spaces are respected,” says Lalita Kadam, a resident of Bhayandar who works at a Churchgate-based private firm.

Sanitation disparities

According to Rohini Kadam, a ‘Right to Pee’ activist, there is one public toilet seat for every 600 men compared to around 1,500 women in Mumbai. These numbers fall far short of the standard norms, emphasising the urgent need for improvement in sanitation infrastructure.

Women not only face a scarcity of toilets but also endure poor hygiene and safety standards. Public toilets are often dirty, with broken doors, lack of running water, and inadequate lighting. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that women have to pay more than men for the same usage. Moreover, the search for suitable places in the absence of public toilets exposes them to the constant threat of sexual harassment.

Impact on health

The issue extends beyond mere inconvenience, especially for slum dwellers and women working on construction sites or in the streets. Due to the lack of proper toilet facilities, some women are forced to restrict their water intake, leading to significant health repercussions. A women constable highlighted how this lack of washroom facilities in the field affects her daily life, and has long-term effects on reproductive, sexual and overall health.

Administrative challenges

Efforts to address these issues face administrative challenges, as highlighted by CORO. The slum sanitation programme, once implemented effectively, is now hampered by a lack of coordination among various departments. This affects the creation of sustainable sanitation methods and the overall success of the programme.

“The slum toilet programme started in 1997 had a separate cell of engineers and social development officers. But since 2014, the programme is being implemented at the department level,” CORO wrote in a letter to the municipal commissioner in November 2023. “Therefore, the responsibilities and mutual coordination of associate engineers, conservation, associate engineers and Solid Waste Management have adversely affected the implementation of the programme.

“The slum sanitation programme is not only expected to construct community toilets but also to create sustainable methods of cleaning... the administration should take proper decisions as to how neglecting these works will make the slum sanitation department a mere community toilet construction department,” it said.

"To rectify this situation, it is imperative for the civic body to conduct regular surveys and invest in improving sanitation facilities,” says Kadam. “This includes enhancing infrastructure, cleanliness, hygiene and safety. Additionally, addressing administrative challenges and reinstating effective programmes like the slum toilet initiative are crucial. Public awareness campaigns emphasising gender sensitivity and equal rights to sanitation are also essential.

“As Mumbai strives to maintain its status as the ‘City of Dreams’, it must prioritise the fundamental rights of its women, ensuring equal access to sanitation facilities. On this Women’s Day, let us collectively advocate for a Mumbai where women no longer have to compromise their health, dignity and safety due to inadequate sanitation infrastructure. The time for action is now, and only through a concerted effort can we truly achieve gender-equal sanitation in the city,” she adds.

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