Last week we marked World Toilet Day. Continuing on the theme, I thought I would share some experiences of constructing and running urban public pay-and-use toilets. Never a dull moment in this game, I assure you. But the stories about operations I shall keep for another occasion. Here I would like to share some feedback from a survey we did of women in Hyderabad, as part of our planning exercise before we took up construction of toilets when the city decided, for the first time, to open up this activity in Public Private Partnership mode. The survey is over a decade old. But sadly, most of the challenges we found still probably stand.
Here are some of the findings from a survey of close to 400 women:
- About a fourth of the respondents were not even aware that there are Pay-and-Use toilet facilities for women.
- About half the respondents reported that they wait till they reach home even if they feel the need to use a toilet when they are out.
- Women in higher economic strata, non-working women and students use these facilities significantly less than women from lower economic strata and working women.
- 64.2% of those respondents who used public convenience had a bad experience. The reported major reasons for the ‘bad experience’ were:
|1. Unhygienic Conditions||92.5|
|2. Insufficient water availability||69.2|
|3. Bad smell||62.8|
|4. Caretaker being male||57|
|5. Joint infrastructure (both male and female facilities in one building, with a partition)||53|
|6. Feeling of insecurity||36.4|
The respondents also made several valuable suggestions:
- About 53% women suggested that there should be exclusive toilets for women.
- Around 57% women opined that the caretaker of the public toilet should be properly trained and should be gentle, and he/she should be educated and middle-aged.
- Respondents also expressed that the following facilities are needed by women in public toilets; dustbins for disposable things; small shelves for women carrying things; mug and bucket provision; mirror; good lighting and alternative lighting arrangement in case of power fails.
- Indian and western toilets both to be provided for convenience of various types of users.
- Security is paramount.
- Proper maintenance, cleaning at regular intervals and supervision.
- In some cases, men are using the space around the toilets as the toilets! This not only leads to bad smell but also a feeling of embarrassment on the part of women who want to enter.
- In many toilets, there is no proper indication for “gents” and “ladies”, which creates problem for women in using public toilets.
Public toilets are definitely more prevalent today than a decade ago. And the maintenance is not as bad as it was. But I think some of the survey findings and recommendations are still very relevant to those concerned about public sanitation, and about making the most basic of facilities accessible to one half of humanity!