On average, women take twice as long to get in and out of public restrooms. And many places still don't have adequate facilities for women. Is this simply an inconvenience, or a sign of a greater problem?
In less-developed nations, lack of toilet equality can pose a serious problem. In India, some 330 million women lack access to toilets. A recent Amnesty International report on Kenyan slums found that about 60% of Nairobi residents live with limited access to water and sanitation. The public toilets in the shantytowns are ill-lit, dangerous places for women to visit at night. Fear of rape keeps many from leaving their houses, which in turn leads to a proliferation of "flying toilets" - plastic bags filled with feces thrown from the window. Naturally, this isn't good for anyone's health, male or female.
For most American women, the toilet problem often seems like little more than a minor inconvenience. However, as the Economist points out, even in wealthier countries, "sanitation and women's rights are closely linked." Even here, where most places typically have equal facilities for men and women - and some, like New York City, are working to double the number of stalls for women - bathroom availability can still sometimes frustrate and annoy even the most patient ladies. Furthermore, "equal facilities" are often defined by area, not number of outlets. Since more urinals can fit into one space, men often have more options, while women are stuck with a lesser number of stalls - which we use for a longer time.
Though it's nothing compared to the issues faced by women in poorer countries, the bathroom thing is still an issue. Every one of us has encountered the disparity at some point, finding ourselves standing in lengthy lines while our male companion breezes in and out of the men's room in a fraction of the time. The Economist suggests one way of solving the problem is by offering unisex bathrooms. This makes it a little more fair: either there are no lines, or everyone has to wait. This would also most likely make the bathroom a slightly more efficient place - I can't imagine we would feel as inclined to stand around and chat while listening to a guy take a dump one stall over (though I have been known to use the men's room in a pinch).
Weirdly, a small part of me would rather brave the lines - and listen to the in-line chatter - than lose the sanctity of a women's restroom. In a crowded bar, the bathroom can be a place to retreat, fix makeup, cry, gossip, or even profess our love for a stranger's outfit. Would I be willing to give that up in the name of equality? I suppose, but let's not get carried away and start installing female urinals everywhichwhere. I have heard they are somewhat uncomfortable.