We haven’t made enough toilets for women: WR

Six toilets at Churchgate station for 30,000 women: that is all the Western Railway has been able to provide in all these years, and it admitted as much at the Right To Pee conference on Thursday.

Addressing the gathering, Saurabh Prasad, Additional Divisional Railway Manager, Western Railway, said, “Assuming 30,000 women passengers use Churchgate station, there are six toilets. That is all. Are we providing adequate toilets? No. Can you build more? That is the big question mark.”

Ten years ago, the Churchgate-Dahanu stretch would see 14 lakh passengers using it every day; that number is now 34 lakh. However, facilities for commuters, including toilets, have not kept pace with the increase in footfalls. Mr. Prasad added, “Over the past three months, this has been a focus area. We are focusing on more toilets, better toilets and better located toilets. We are now sensitised to the needs of women commuters.”

Five years ago, a group of women activists began working on a little articulated but urgent right: accessible, clean public toilets for women, and the Right To Pee movement was born.

In 2012, activists said, the city had no free urinals for women as compared to 2,849 for men. Today, thanks to the efforts by various groups, that number has gone up to 433. Despite this, of the 10,381 toilet seats constructed by the BMC, only 37 per cent are for women.

While much of the battle is yet to be fought, activists say an important first step has been taken. “The recognition of the issue and the coming together of all stakeholders are important,” Supriya Jan-Sonar, a Right To Pee activist, said. “In the past five-and-a-half years, there have been many initiatives in the State and the country… We don’t look at it as a biological activity but from a rights point of view.” She added that the campaign was also a way to reclaim public spaces.

Shaina NC, a BJP spokesperson and a panel member at the conference, rued the fact that over 70 women in the state had lost their lives to Sanitation Related Psycho-social Stress.

Speakers also emphasised not just on building toilets but on maintaining them. “While demanding more toilets, we should also seek standards,” Mayuri Bhattacharya, founder of Kolkata-based Loo Watch, said.

The writer is a freelance journalist

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