It is time to set up public toilets for women across the country. As Sindh Minister for Women’s Development Shahla Raza has pointed out, there is an urgent need to raise the issue at all forums including assemblies so that measures can be taken to provide facilities for over 50 percent of the population in the country. The lack of public toilets in bazaars and other places essentially creates serious problems for women and it is not uncommon to come across female field workers, media professionals and others knocking at the doors of people’s homes to ask for the use of a restroom. This is both undignified and potentially unsafe.
The lack of toilets for women, even at educational institutions, has already been documented as one of the factors which forces girls out of secondary education. While 90 percent of girls across the world receive primary education, only 75 percent move on to education at the next tier. The highest dropout rates come in developing countries, with factors such as problems with dealing with menstrual hygiene in the absence of toilets one of their reasons for this. We need a campaign for toilets with proper sanitation facilities to be set up at all educational institutions and also other places. This should be a part of a wider drive to establish public toilets for all citizens. There is a shortage of facilities for men as well, with the use of the roadside still not uncommon even in major cities. This is both unhygienic and unpleasant. A change is needed, and the requirements of women need to be made a part of this change.
Organisations researching working conditions for women have pointed out that at a large number of factories and other places, there are simply no private areas for women to use for any purpose. This ties in with the wider problem of women being seen as virtually non-existent. It is time our government and organisations agitating for women’s rights took this on as a serious issue. Trivializing the very real needs of women is not advisable. It simply acts to further reduce their standing in society and holds back the efforts to ensure that they are recognized as equal citizens. Women after all are not a minority group. They make up at least one half of Pakistan’s population. They must therefore be catered for in all respects and providing facilities that they can use to meet basic needs, to breastfeed infants, and to make access to sanitary products easier for them should become a priority for everyone in the country.