Telangana’s SHE Toilets Have Assuaged Women’s ‘Public Toilet’ Fear

Among the many challenges women face every day, lack of access to clean public toilets is a major one.

5 min read
Hindi Female

Access to adequate and safe toilets and sanitation services, with attention to specific needs of different genders, is an essential factor for gender equality. Women constitute 48 percent of the urban population in India (Census 2011) and yet, sanitation infrastructure planning in Indian cities and towns, shows a complete disregard towards gender equality.

While the Swachh Bharat Urban (SBM) norms for public toilet prescribes 1 seat/50 women as compared to 1/100 men in public toilets, and 1 seat/ 25 women as compared to 1 seat/ 35 men in community toilets, most Indian cities do not comply with the standards. Several reports indicate that the number of seats for women in public toilets in urban areas is one-third that for men.

This inequality is further aggravated by the fact that due to biological reasons, women need to use toilets more frequently and take a longer amount of time per toilet visit. Queuing outside women’s toilet blocks is therefore a manifestation of gender bias in architecture and city planning.


Women’s ‘Toilet Troubles’

“I am a vegetable vendor and have to sit in the market place from 6:00 AM to sometimes, 7:30 PM. There is a public toilet, a short walk away, but the caretaker charges Rs 5 from me, while he allows men to use it free of cost, for urination. He says he cannot be sure if women are using the toilet for urination or more, and hence cannot allow free usage. I cannot afford to spend Rs 10-15 per day on public toilets and hence have no choice but avoid drinking water and at times consuming food, to avoid the need to go to a toilet,” said a female street vendor.

Where there are usable toilet blocks with sufficient seats, women encounter other issues such as appropriate design, that balances privacy and security, availability of sufficient water and facilities for menstrual hygiene management, pay-per-use model that charges an equal price of access for men and women (which unintentionally proves to be discriminatory) as women need to use the toilet facilities more frequently than men.

Inadequate access to basic sanitation at public places and ill designed facilities prevent women from realizing a range of human rights. It is therefore critical that sanitation infrastructure planning is gender-sensitive.

Cities need to assign sufficient effort and financial resources to ensure that the public sanitation infrastructure are designed and implemented to meet the unique needs of women and girls.


Why Women Are Reluctant to Use Public Toilets

In Warangal, Telangana, with support from Administrative Staff College of India and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Greater Warangal Municipal Corporation (GWMC) instituted a study to understand whether and how women in the city were using the 38 good quality public toilets functional in the city.

The survey on footfalls in the toilets showed that despite the toilets being widely publicised through signage boards and having raised toilets, bathing areas, handwash stations, feedback machines, caretakers, regular cleaning schedules etc, the usage of toilets by women continued to be very low.

A quantitative research study with 197 women and in-depth interviews with 21 women of diverse backgrounds revealed that reasons for lack of use of public toilets by women included inappropriate location; presence of men near the entrance; male caretakers; lack of menstrual hygiene facilities, lack of soap and water.


What is the SHE Toilet?

The city government used conclusions from this evaluation to design and set up the first exclusive toilet for women (SHE toilet). Developed on a public-private-partnership model, the SHE toilet is designed as a two-seater toilet with an improvised septic tank with a soak pit. One of the seats is designed for the specially-abled, with a hand rail and ramp, and enough space to serve the dual purpose of a child-care room.

The toilet is child-friendly, has an entrance with a ramp with a railing to provide access to women with special needs, a hand-wash station with a soap dispenser, a mirror, dustbin, woman caretaker, CCTV, sanitary-vending machine, incinerator, customer feedback machine, cloak room, fire extinguisher, and attractive interior and exterior design.

“I was never comfortable using the public toilets earlier as all of them had male caretakers. I use the SHE toilet regularly and feel there should be more such toilets in the city,” said a college student.

“I use public toilets only when I am travelling abroad. The toilets in India are dirty and feel so unsafe. The SHE toilet in my city Warangal is an exception. It is international in look and has the facilities that a woman needs,” a business woman told us.


SHE Toilet’s Claim to Fame

The SHE toilet has gained much popularity among the women users, leading GWMC to initiate the construction of another nine SHE toilets in busy market areas, vendor zones, parks, railway stations and bus terminals. Also, the Warangal experience is being scaled up in the state of Telangana.

Having inaugurated the SHE toilet, the earlier Minister of Urban Development, Shri KT Rama Rao announced that all the towns in Telangana should have provision for at least 10 SHE toilets each. Hyderabad has already implemented more than 15 SHE toilets, and is building more.

In addition to taking a gender-intentional planning in provisioning public toilets, the city also aimed to address the need for boys and girls in schools. Upon conducting a baseline study to assess the situation, the city used a combination of municipal funds and Corporate Social Responsibility funds from organisations such as Oriental Insurance Company Limited, and private contributions from Rotary, to ensure gender-segregated toilets in sufficient numbers, with suitable designs in all the 210 municipal schools. Toilets for Children with Special Needs, hand wash stations, compost pits, sanitary pad disposal systems, sanitary pads, soaps and dustbins have been provisioned.

ASCI has conducted “train the trainer” programs on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and 140 teachers and girls each have been developed as MHM resource persons. Sensitising men and boys about MHM formed an important component of the training.


Gender and Hygiene Sensitization

“Earlier I used to feel very shy even looking at people during my periods, but now after training I have an MHM trainer badge and I can speak confidently even to my father, brother and boys in my school, that periods are normal and that they should support girls in managing their periods safely,” said a school student.

Warangal has completed a gender audit of all its existing 45 public toilet facilities and identified areas of improvement, to make them more accessible to women. It is establishing a system to systematically capture sex-segregated usage data.

It is also identifying additional locations for building more SHE toilets, and hoping to implement a model of involving women self-help groups as entrepreneurs who will build and run the facilities.

(The authors Dr. Y. Malini Reddy and Prof. V. Srinivas Chary are with the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), India on the Need for Gender Intentional Sanitation. They can be reached at @malinireddy and @Chary_VSC. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the authors’ own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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