It’s called “Potty Parity” – the idea that men and women have equal access to public toilets. Few countries have achieved it. Nevertheless China wants to have a go – at least on paper.
On November 19, or World Toilet Day, the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development announced that more public toilets would be built for women than men because, simply put, not to do so would be discriminatory.
“The lack of women’s lavatories is an urgent issue that needs to be solved,” it said.
There should be two female public toilet stalls for every one for men in more populous areas such as shopping malls; and a ratio of three to two in other areas, according to the latest design standards announced by the government.
The idea is not just to redress an existing imbalance in facilities. Rather it is a recognition that men and women have different requirements and that women generally spend longer in public bathrooms.
The result is often long, slow queues for the “Ladies” and quick to non-existent lines for the “Gents”.
That is not a situation exclusive to China. Various studies put the average time that women spend in public loos (not including queuing) at between 79 and 93 seconds, while men take about 30 to 40 seconds.
Biology is the main culprit, meaning the act of peeing tends to take men less time. Menstruation also mean women’s need for bathrooms is greater than men’s.
Yet even in cases where the same amount of space has been allocated for male and female bathrooms, men often have more toilets available because urinals take up less space than cubicles.
Many international campaigners and academics argue it is a form of discrimination – globally – because women suffer disproportionately.
That same idea has spread to China. In 2012 a group of feminists led by campaigner Li Tingting tried to draw attention to the issue by “occupying” men’s bathrooms in Guangdong province and Beijing. For three minute intervals, they would allow women in and then make men wait in order to make them aware of the inconvenience routinely faced by ladies.
Li was constantly challenged by the police during the campaign and she was later detained for another campaign against sexual harassment on public transport.
Yet the authorities have responded to both her complaints – first by trialling female-only buses (see WiC324) and now by issuing rules on increasing the number of public bathrooms for women.
“The increase not only shows a more scientific, pragmatic approach but also a greater degree of care. This change turns formal gender equality to real gender equality. Increasing women’s toilets doesn’t mean giving women ‘extra’ help, it means giving them long-overdue equality and the same rights with regard to health and sanitation,” Sohu News proclaimed.
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