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Public Toilet Facilities: A Critical Issue

12:00 AM Jun 14, 2024 IST | Fiaz Fazili
public toilet facilities  a critical issue

Public toilets are an essential component of urban infrastructure, crucial for maintaining hygiene, health, and dignity in public spaces. For women, the availability of clean and safe public toilets is particularly important due to specific physiological needs and the risk of gender-based violence.


Inadequate public sanitation facilities can lead to significant discomfort and health issues, such as urinary tract infections, and can restrict women's participation in public life, impacting their freedom of movement and economic opportunities.


The Current State of Public Toilets in Srinagar


Despite its status as a smart city, Srinagar's public toilet facilities are grossly inadequate. There are few functional public restrooms, and those that exist often suffer from poor maintenance, lack of sanitation, and security concerns. Many toilets are either locked or in such a deplorable state that they are unusable, forcing people, especially women, to seek alternatives or avoid long outings altogether.


A survey conducted by local NGOs in 2022 revealed that less than 20% of the city's public toilets were usable. The rest were either closed, lacked basic amenities like running water and soap, or were deemed unsafe due to their location or poor lighting. This situation is particularly challenging for women, elderly citizens, and people with disabilities, who are disproportionately affected by inadequate public sanitation facilities.


Impact on Women:


The lack of public toilets has a pronounced impact on women visiting Kashmir. While driving through bund, near a prestigious girls school, two ladies were looking desperately for a public toilet facility, ultimately guided to a nearby masjid. Sadly, even our masjids don't have facilities for females. Not only for locals, but for female tourists, the problem begins as soon as they step out to explore the city's attractions.


Popular tourist spots like Dal Lake, Mughal Gardens, and the bustling marketplaces are either devoid of public restrooms or have facilities that are unfit for use. This forces women to limit their excursions, plan their day around the availability of hotel facilities, or even resort to avoiding hydration to minimize the need for restroom breaks, which poses serious health risks.

Local women face even greater challenges. For women vendors, students, and workers who spend long hours outside their homes, the absence of clean public toilets is a daily struggle. Many are forced to wait until they return home, leading to significant discomfort and potential health issues.

The situation is worse during menstruation, when the need for clean facilities is even more critical. The lack of public toilet facilities, especially for women, is a significant issue in many places, involving women's rights based NGOs to push for necessary changes. It highlights broader problems related to urban planning, public health, and gender equality. Here are some steps that could be taken to address this problem:

Improving Public Infrastructure: Municipalities need to prioritize the construction and maintenance of clean, safe public toilets. This includes ensuring that facilities are available in high-traffic areas such as schools, markets, and public transportation hubs.

Gender-Inclusive Facilities: Public restrooms should be designed to accommodate everyone, including women, men, children, and people with disabilities. This can be achieved by building more gender-neutral and family restrooms.

Partnerships with Religious Institutions: Religious institutions like mosques, temples, and churches can play a crucial role by providing public restrooms. Collaborating with these institutions to build or upgrade facilities to include women can significantly improve access.

The Social and Economic Ramifications:

The repercussions of inadequate public toilet facilities extend beyond personal discomfort and health issues. They also have broader social and economic implications. Women are often discouraged from participating fully in the workforce or engaging in entrepreneurial activities that require long hours away from home. This can lead to reduced economic opportunities and financial independence for women, perpetuating gender inequality.

Moreover, the lack of sanitation facilities can deter tourists, particularly women, from visiting Srinagar. Tourism is a significant contributor to the local economy, and any factor that hampers the comfort and safety of tourists can have adverse economic consequences. Negative reviews and word-of-mouth about poor sanitation can tarnish the city's reputation as a tourist-friendly destination.

Practical Steps, Initiatives and Solutions

Addressing the public toilet crisis in Srinagar requires a multifaceted approach involving government action, public awareness, and community involvement. Advocating for policy changes that require the inclusion of public restrooms in urban planning and development projects can create long-term solutions.

The municipal or smart city authorities must prioritize the construction and maintenance of public toilets, ensuring they are distributed evenly across the city, particularly in high-traffic areas. This includes leveraging funds from the Smart Cities Mission to build modern, hygienic, and safe facilities.

Public-Private Partnerships: Encouraging private entities to participate in the construction and upkeep of public restrooms can help bridge the gap. Businesses can be incentivized through tax breaks or advertising opportunities in exchange for maintaining public toilets.

Technological Solutions: Implementing smart solutions like mobile apps and websites that help locate the nearest public toilet, restrooms provide real-time information on cleanliness and availability. These tools can include user reviews and ratings to ensure cleanliness and safety.

Community Involvement: Engaging local communities in the maintenance and monitoring of public toilets can ensure better upkeep and a sense of ownership. Women’s groups and NGOs can play a pivotal role in advocating for better facilities and educating the public on the importance of sanitation.

Safety Measures: Ensuring that public toilets are well-lit, equipped with proper security measures, and located in safe areas is crucial for making them accessible to women. Panic buttons and regular police patrols near these facilities can enhance safety.

Awareness Campaigns: Public awareness campaigns about the importance of using and maintaining public toilets can help change attitudes and reduce vandalism and misuse. Raising awareness about the issue through campaigns, petitions, and collaboration with local governments can lead to action.

Portable Solutions: In the short term, portable toilets can be deployed in areas with high demand. These can be temporary solutions during events (pilgrimages, festivals) or in areas awaiting permanent facilities.
Sanitation Standards and Periodic Audits: Regular inspections and audits by independent bodies can ensure that public toilets meet health, hygienic and safety standards. Feedback mechanisms should be established to continuously improve the quality and accessibility of these facilities.

While Srinagar's inclusion in the Smart Cities Mission marks a step forward in urban development, the lack of adequate public toilet facilities highlights a critical area needing attention. For the city to truly become smart and inclusive, it must address the basic needs of all its residents and visitors, especially women.

Ensuring that women have access to safe and clean restrooms is not just a matter of convenience but a fundamental public health and human rights issue. By investing in public sanitation infrastructure, engaging the community, and leveraging technology, Srinagar can overcome this challenge and ensure that its progress towards smart city status is holistic and inclusive. The well-being, dignity, and participation of women in public life depend on it.

Author besides being a medical doctor, works at Mubarak Hospital, Srinagar.