I was on a bus yesterday traveling from Nagapattinam to Chennai! The bus started at about 1.30PM from Nagapattinam and chugged on along the highway through the afternoon heat. After about 4 hours of travel it stopped suddenly – there were no shops or restaurants nearby. I wondered why this unscheduled stop? Realized the answer soon enough as the men in the bus started to troop down outside and to the bushes adjoining the road and came back into the bus looking very pleased with themselves!
I looked around at my women co passengers wondering if anyone would venture out. But none did and so we chugged along with the pee swishing inside our bladders!
This, my friends is the plight of most women in a public place or a public transport that is without an enclosed toilet.
I remember a discussion with some friends of mine about what we hated most about being women- dowry, female infanticide etc etc surely. But more practically we felt it was the inability to pee at will. I often look enviously at men who can pee anywhere without a thought.
The government offices are often the worst in terms of facilities relating to ladies toilet. Yes, there is usually a loo but it is securely locked and no one knows where or who is the holder of the keys.
For those of us who work in the non profit sector travelling to god forsaken places it is more of a problem than our sisters who have the benefit of office based jobs with a toilet. Often we are in unfamiliar locations alone and a toilet is probably the last thing we want to look for on our own. This reminds me of an incident in college when we were travelling by a night bus in Gujarat as part of a college rural trip. The bus stopped at about 1 AM at some unknown place and my friend … S… wanted to pee. I decided to accompany her and we ventured out in the dark to what looked like a toilet. I asked her to go in first since she appeared to be more in need of a toilet than me. After about a minute I heard a scream and there was S rushing out holding her pyjamas at the waist screaming.. apparently the “toilet” in question had an opening at the back through which some pigs had made their way inside while she was at the job! Of course all this screaming had attracted a lot of attention and finally even those who were contemplating the bushes nearby decided not to !
I have never understood this practice of locking women’s toilets in public places or institutions. Even my prestigious alma mater in Mumbai had the practice of locking ladies’ toilets after 6 PM. So if one had to use the toilet we would have to trudge all the way to the girls hostel. I had to deal with this emergency during a campus interview when I was the next candidate in line. There was no time to go to the hostel. So, I asked one my male classmates to stand guard while I used the gents toilet!!! Desperate situations call for desperate measures folks!!
The other day I was passing through T. Nagar where I spotted a traffic constable leaving his post and going to the nearest wall…! I wonder how women constables must be managing?
I don’t know about others but I cope with this problem of inability to relieve myself by reducing my intake of water – BAD I know but there is no other way!! I found a lot of my women colleagues in the non profit sector also do this. One of them was seriously ill with a kidney problem on account of this.
Silly and trivial though it seems I think the access to clean and safe toilets in public places is one of the basic rights and for women it is more than just that – it encourages our participation in a lot of spheres. For e.g a study conducted by an NGO found that there was increased female drop out in schools which did not have toilets. This drop out was more at the middle school level when girls begin to grow up and cannot relieve themselves in public.
I know we women have been taught to repress and deny the existence of a lot of our bodily functions but that does not mean that it is not a need. It is certainly a need and unless we begin to voice it without embarrassment the world would continue to pretend that women do not need to relieve themselves. So.. as one of my friends responded to my text message on the men on the bus getting down to pee while the women stayed inside I would say that if the bus does not stop somewhere safe for women to pee at reasonable intervals of time during a journey – the next time the men leave the bus to do their job we should do it inside the bus to teach them a lesson!!!!!