How many times have you rushed back home to use the lavatory? How many hours did you have to hold it in because you would rather “pass out than use a public toilet even though it was clearly earmarked for women”?
Even though the city has 186 public toilets, for both men and women, the reality is that they are hardly used by women, because they aren't designed keeping their needs in mind. “Men can pee anywhere. Women cannot! They need to feel secure, safe and private,” reads the online campaign Don’t Hold it In, which was launched by Hyderabad Urban Labs on November 19, also observed as World Toilet Day.
The campaign highlights women’s sanitation woes in Hyderabad. It hopes to bring about a change “where women don’t have to hold their bladders” by bringing together four elements: stories shared by women and their experiences with sanitary facilities, reflections on the unanswered questions of gender and sanitation, collection of resources and a toolkit with Hyderabad toilet database and a guide on conducting an audit.
“Women lawyers actually end up getting a lot of exercise in the court because we walk about half a kilometer to reach the toilet,” said Vasudha Nagaraj, a practicing lawyer, who spoke about her experience at Do Din, 2014, a two-day techno-arts events that takes place annually in Hyderabad. The anecdote is shared on the ‘Don’t Hold It In’ website to bring to light the discomfort faced at a top governmental institute. “For some reason our toilets don’t have mugs and buckets, we only have water running out of the taps, this is the AP High Court, not even the trial courts.
As far as clients are concerned, litigants in the court, I don’t think they even drink water in the courts. So you have to be very self-sufficient about your body in the courts,” Nagaraj adds.
And that’s just one of the stories shared on the website; there are students, reporters, and daily commuters who say that women don’t use public toilets because they don’t feel comfortable and safe.
“The thought process, the idea to focus on public toilets, came to foray when Sandeep, a student from School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, came to intern with us. Since he was a planning student, he wanted to know the state the toilets were in and whether they were being used to their rightful capacity,” says Harsha Devulapalli, researcher at Hyderabad Urban Labs.
“What Sandeep found was that most of the toilets were maintained by men, making women hesitate to use them. Only women who work nearby were the ones who used them. Earlier this year, three girls from Dr B.R. Ambedkar Open University came to intern with us and they made a video on change.org, highlighting the issue of lack of toilets for women. And that’s how we decided to launch it into a full-fledged campaign,” says Harsha.
During the research conducted by the team from Hyderabad Urban Labs, they found that most of the public toilets were designed in such a manner that women had to usually cross men’s urinals to go to their sections and in some cases the women’s section lacked even a wash basin or a dustbin, forcing them to go to the men’s side.
“Other than that, our research showed that there are certain areas in the city where one can find clusters of toilets, like the crossroads at LB Stadium; that’s because GHMC had come up with an initiative to construct toilets under the ‘Fund Your City’ campaign where they use the structure to even construct a billboard. So most of the toilets were constructed where there would be more business. So if you look at it, it’s an internalised perspective that a woman would either hold it in or go to a mall to use the toilet,” says Harsha.
And it's this gender disparity the organisation wants to bring to light and make a change. The online petition is addressed to the Chief Minister of Telangana, commissioner and the additional commissioner of Sanitation.
“The need of the hour is better toilets for women and we want to highlight this for the government and the people to take action on. We are an experimental organisation that works towards making cities smarter, and public sanitation is one issue that we hope to bring about change in,” he says.
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