Indian Women Fight for the Right to Pee

The right to pee for free without being publicly humiliated is a basic human right that most of us probably take for granted. But Indian women have recently been forced to mobilize in hopes of putting an end to a sexist double standard: in many cities, men pee gratis while women have to pay to wait in line for a limited number of toilets.

Half of Indian households don't have toilets, so both men and women often pee in fields. If women without their own bathrooms don't want to deal with the harassment and sexual assault that comes with peeing out in the open, they're forced to go early and wait in line for public restrooms, because the municipal government provides 5,993 public toilets for men but only 3,536 for women. To add insult to injury, men have an additional 2,466 urinals, which they can use for free, ostensibly because urinals don't need water. Officially, women who are using toilets just to pee aren't supposed to pay either, but the male attendants who guard the bathrooms often say there's no way to know what exactly the ladies are doing in there (poop-shaming!) and force them to pay up.

The "Right to Pee" campaign began last year, when social advocates met to discuss different problems facing Mumbai and decided to focus on the bathroom disparity. "Initially, this was considered a little frivolous," one of the organizers told the New York Times. "But we told people, ‘No, this is an important issue, and we want to work on it.' "

For those still pooh-poohing (sorry, couldn't help it) the importance of the "Right to Pee" campaign, consider this: doctors say the toilet situation in Mumbai is directly related to female health problems like UTI and bladder infections. Women who don't drink water in hopes they won't have to pee that much are also at risk for dehydration, especially given that temperatures can go above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Mumbai.

Advocates say that their efforts have yielded promising results: some local legislators have pledged to build more toilets for women and to make sure they stay free of charge. Does this post make you feel like you have to run to the bathroom? While you're in there, remember how lucky you are, even if you're out of toilet paper.

In Mumbai, a Campaign Against Restroom Injustice [NYT]

Image via Jorg Hackemann /Shutterstock.