I remember feeling glad a few mornings ago, when, as my body was bent in an awkward position in an attempt to scrub our toilet, I realized that sometimes it's nice to have one toilet instead of two. After all, it makes for less toilet-cleaning for me. There have been times when I've longed for an extra toilet - when my kids were potty-training, or when we've had guests in our home. Often, I don't remember to be thankful that we have a toilet. In some parts of the world, this is considered a luxury. How often I forget that we are living among the richest of the rich, by the world's standards.
It's hard to picture how the lack of toilets impacts life for people, especially women, all over the world. Sorry men, but I think it's a little different for you. In our city, it's not terribly shocking, but still disturbing, to see men huddling next to a tree or ducking into an alley (including the alley between our house and our neighbor's house) to relieve themselves. A friend once told me that when his family was on a missionary assignment a few years back, the region where they were living stressed that men pee whenever, and wherever, they felt it necessary. To hold it would increase their chances of impotence, they thought. (A funny side-note - this led to some questions about the word impotence from my friend's 11-year-old son, who was sitting at the dinner table with us when this story was told.) Yet in some places in the world, there are considerably more public restrooms for men than for women. Being a woman, I know that I'm likely a little biased, but this makes no sense to me.
Sometimes, even that men have access to the same number of toilets as women seems ridiculous. I was reminded of this last week when I had jury duty. When we were dismissed for formal bathroom brakes, the women's line snaked out the bathroom door and around the corner. Meanwhile, there was no line for the men's bathroom. We women joked about how we needed to stage a take-over of the men's bathroom. Men, you can let me know if I'm wrong, but women just have more reason for access to private toilets. Pregnant women coping with the frequent urge to pee, menstruating women dealing with "that time of the month", for as much as we try to control and hide it, we're leaking when we like to be clean, so we're feeling the need to take care of it. And we always have to sit and wipe. Come on now; all of this just takes time. There should be more stalls for women than for men. It almost makes me wonder if when men enter their bathrooms, they're swallowed up in some kind of toilet heaven, where there is a private stall for every man, and they can ease in and out and be back and ready for action, making the women look foolish. Those silly women, taking too long in the bathroom again. They're probably chatting, or fixing their make-up.
OK, that was probably entirely too much information. And I'm getting a little carried away. FOCUS!
I love the "No Toilet, No Bride" movement in India, initiated by the Haryana government, encouraging potential brides and their parents to refuse potential grooms who don't have toilets in their homes. A world of difference this makes in the bride's future - no waiting for access to a public toilet and running water when she wakes in the morning, no concern about rape or violence due to the search for a safe and secluded spot to take care of her business, less worry that her daughters will miss school because their school has no toilet (learn more here and here). Maybe this movement will call attention to the fact that all people, males and females, should have access to basic sanitation, bringing dignity and hope, and eventually allowing for more education, more productivity, and more meaningful work for women. To read more about it, and to learn what a "flying toilet" is, please check out New York Times article The Female Factor: Improving Women's Status, One Bathroom at a Time.