The Kerala State Women’s Development Corporation (KSWDC) set up 20 of these women-friendly, technology-driven toilets in January 2012, especially aimed at women on the go.

Here is what could be an innovative solution to the lack of hygiene in public toilets that women often complain about — the “she-toilets” in the city are automatic and loaded with features not found in other public toilets. Yet, technology is what seems to be driving away many of the women from these toilets.

The Kerala State Women’s Development Corporation (KSWDC) set up 20 of these women-friendly, technology-driven toilets in January 2012, especially aimed at women on the go.

Yet change was never going to be easy for a segment that had no explanation for not using these toilets ever. Features as varied as a coin-operated sanitary-napkin-vending machine, an incinerator to burn the napkins, diaper-changing stations for babies, an Indian-style pan, electronic display boards on doors, security features, FM radio, and SMS alert to controllers for cleaning the tanks have not drawn a majority of the women to use the facility.

Among the few who did venture inside the units, which cost Rs. 5 lakh each, the response is mixed. “Given that there are no instructions in the regional language, and the operation is a little confusing, I was not comfortable using it,” Elsa George, a bank employee, said.

Useful facilities

Many college students felt the facilities provided for menstrual hygiene were useful. However, a few were concerned about the location of the toilets, mostly in public places such as junctions where there was no privacy.

“There was difficulty in getting land or electricity or water in many of the locations that were earlier decided for the project. Hence, the units at SAT Hospital, Regional Cancer Centre, and near Fort are yet to start functioning. A few changes, including relocation of some toilets and labelling of the control buttons in Malayalam, will be made. It is hoped that more people will come forward to use the toilets,” P.S. Ramshad, a KSWDC official, said.

But the changes need to be implemented soon, as regular maintenance and upkeep of the toilets is not a cheap affair. The maintenance charges for each unit come to around Rs.5,200 a month. Then there are the non-revenue generating units set up in colleges.

Though the toilets are a not-for-profit initiative, the KSWDC is being forced to look at alternative ways of revenue generation as long-term maintenance of the units may not be feasible with the collection amount alone.