It’s time to change the lack of dignity that women have to face when having to, pardon my French, “water the garden”, “drain the dragon”, “park my cappuccino” or the more familiar: peeing in public. I’m tired of how inconvenient it is for women to pee in public and just how convenient it is for men. I’m not suggesting that we should alter the male anatomy to make it less easy for them to “squeeze the weasel”, or that women evolve some sort of male appendage for ourselves. But I think it’s time to change the abysmal provision of clean public toilets for women in India. This is inextricably linked to the problem of men urinating in public.
The Sulabh toilet complexes have pioneered the world’s largest toilet complex in Shirdi, Maharashtra. We live in a warped cultural-religious world where we will be clean and well toileted for our gods but not for our fellow human beings. According to the Hindustan Times, our capital city has 3000 public toilets, about 50,000 short of the actual requirement. In the world’s next superpower, there are still women who have to ferry human excreta on their heads because of a lack of plumbing. Furthermore, the levels of hygiene in Indian public toilets cannot be guaranteed making women of the middle classes shy away from them and prefer to duck in to a posh hotel or restaurant under the guise of ordering a beverage but just so that we can use the toilet.
Too many times I have been out in town doing my errands, holding my bladder and sat on the bus or in an auto and with very bumpity-bumpity have wanted to squirty-squirty all down my salwar. Try taking a long distance bus journey in this country and invariably you are met with inadequate rest stops for women. There are some Rs.2 pay toilets which are maintained with adequate water but more often than not I have experienced dark winding approaches to a toilet complex, with the unmistakable smell of ammonia wafting through and toilets that don’t flush and doors without proper latches.
Over generations women have developed their own tactics to address the problem of hygiene in public toilets because sometimes home is just too far away. Hovering is a common one – we ladies discretely hover over the toilet seat for fear that if our delicate naked bum cheeks were to come in contact with a public toilet seat we would be a receptacle for all sorts of germs. So with great thigh control we raise our hindquarters over a western style toilet seat to do the deed. Some women don’t like to touch anything in a public toilet. I have heard of women pressing the flush with their feet using a professional, almost Olympian taekwondo style high kick. Some do not use the water for fear of the mug coming too close or god forbid, in contact with any part of one’s body. The threat of an infection is just too great to take the risk. I think most of us don this imaginary bubble of purity around us through which nothing, as long as it isn’t touched, can penetrate in to our flesh.
I believe the Indians took the concept of “hovering” and designed the Indian style toilet or what my American friend calls (and add your best American twang here), “The Squatty Potty”. Even this can have its draw backs when the toilet is an unflushed mess of human disappointment. One usually stands by the entrance of a free stall, gingerly pushing open the door with the tip of the finger nail, standing on your tippy toes to see if anyone’s left their “purse unattended”, ” One rarely bursts in to a public toilet expecting it to be clean. You are more likely to feel a grim trepedation as you expect to encounter the previous customer’s deposits. Think of this, you are squatting and hovering, straddling your trousers/salwar and underwear, keeping it taut around your ankles or shins to prevent it from touching the wet floor and trying to keep the door closed because none of the stalls have latches that work. Peeing in an Indian public toilet for women should be entered as an Olympic sport, at which Indian women would excel with creativity and an uncomfortable ease.
What makes the whole peeing in public even more annoying for women is the ease with which men can just unzip where ever and whenever they want, especially in India, and urinate with gay abandon, irrespective of what they are peeing on or whether there are women and children passing by. Every tree is a lavatory. A doctor well passed her 60s would get so incensed when she saw a man peeing in public, she would shine the headlights of her car on to him and berate him for his barbaric acts while he continued to urinate. Of course, he couldn’t stop mid way and face his accuser. Perhaps Indian women have evolved much hardier bladders over generations of holding our pee till we get home, while our male counterparts have degenerated to weak bladders because there is no public condemnation against men urinating in public. If we can’t get more clean toilets built for women, perhaps we should take to the streets and gang up against men found urinating in public – women can surely cast the first stone, for we commit not the sin of open public urination.
A male friend of mine was caught in dense but slow moving traffic on the M4 motorway in the UK. It was winter and he had been stuck in traffic for over 3 hours. He was desperate to “meet a man about a horse”. Unable to leave his car in the middle of slow moving traffic, he dug out some empty juice cans from the back seat and proceeded to unzip his pants and pee in to them. Oh, the relief. If it was me, a woman, trapped in that car, just what would I have done…I am constrained by my anatomy.
Clearly mine is not an original dilemma. The “SHE WEE” is a potable urinating device for women, invented by Samantha Fountain in the UK. Shewee allows women to urinate whilst standing and without removing clothes. It’s NATO approved and even available free on the NHS! Their slogan is “Stand Up and Take Control” It looks like a funnel with a long spout. You unzip your trousers, push underwear to one side, position the wide portion of the device gently against your body with the outward pipe directed away from you and then you just enjoy the sweet release of peeing standing up. No more unhygienic toilets and bare bottoms.
It’s made with a liquid repellent surface so there are no drips when your done. In a country like India does that mean, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em? Somehow I doubt we’ll see women on the street hiking up their sarees or lowering their salwars to use the She Wee in public like how men unzip and unleash their man bits in public. We could however, use it in public toilets and do away with squatting and hovering.
Perhaps the problem is not purely with biology or with the lack of public toilet facilities but that we have no vocabulary with which to talk about bodily functions. We either resort to technical, words such as urinate, defecate, faeces; or we resort to the crass, shit, piss, arse; or to the childish, wee-wee, pee-pee, su-su etc. Unless we are able to talk about this problem of the lack of clean toilets for women and the prevalence of male public urination, we are not going to be able to change people’s behaviour. It’s easier to talk about the pros and cons of nuclear reactors but not so easy to talk about our lack of public toileting facilities and hygiene. Women of India, go forth and defend your right to pee in clean public toilets.
This is my entry for the Indiblogger competition “Time to Change” sponsored by Stay Free