Few Toilets for Females

  • Shazia Yousuf
  • Publish Date: Feb 22 2017 9:06PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Feb 22 2017 9:06PM
Few Toilets for Females

                                                           Illustration

There’re only a handful of female toilets in the city, and they too are either locked, defunct, or too unclean to be used

 

When Iqra and her friend Sabreen got off from their taxi in Batamaloo stand, they were disgusted with what met their eyes. An elderly woman was urinating behind a shady wall of a shop. Many people walked by and noticed her but Iqra and Sabreen pretended to be oblivious and hurriedly walked towards Lal Chowk, where they had planned to spend few hours, shopping, eating and gossiping around. 

Everything was going great, and as planned, till Sabreen hinted apologetically at something. “My first reaction was an angry look, asking her why she didn’t use restroom before leaving home?” said Iqra “After all, we cannot sit and relieve ourselves by roadside like that old lady. We need to come prepared.” 

Sabreen had done everything she could – drank less water since morning and used restroom just before leaving home. But the winter chill and subzero temperatures played the spoilsport and made the two wander mazily for a toilet. 

“Two coffees please,” Iqra gave the order at a local coffee shop while Sabreen headed straight to its restroom. The duo didn’t finish their coffees and left in embarrassment soon, wondering for the whole day if people at the restaurant understood the real reason behind their visit. “A visit to the restroom cost us two hundred rupees and a lot of embarrassment,” said Iqra

In Lal Chowk, which is the city center and hub of all the business and shopping activities, the handful of existing female toilets are either locked, defunct or too unclean to be used. Thus, if Ifa woman wants to use a toilet, she either has to go to a coffee shop or take an auto and go home. While roadside peeing of men is a common practice, women have no option but to hold.

Dr Aabid Reshi, a general physician, warns of the severe consequences of holding urine for longer periods including loss of bladder control and voiding dysfunction – a condition where there is poor coordination between the bladder muscle and the urethra. “The practice of holding also leads to overflow and accumulation of bacteria in urinary tract,” the doctor adds.

The alternative, thus, is not to hold and urinate, but where? The existing toilets are equally dangerous, especially for women because of their shorter urethras.

“I usually avoid going to college washrooms because of my vulnerability to urinary tract infections. In my two years in college, I have used its washroom only once and my experience was dreadful,” said Henna, a student at Government Women’s College Nawakadal. 

That day when Henna returned to her home, she felt strong chills and high fever. Besides, her back was so painful that her father had to carry her to the clinic of a local physician. “My tests showed acute urinary tract infection. I was bedridden and on diet for a week. This was all because I used the dirty college washroom which is always stinky and unclean,” she said.

Apart from bladder and urinary tract infection, there is also higher prevalence of reproductive tract infections in Kashmiri women. One of the prime reasons for these infections is cited to be poor menstrual hygiene. The untreated and frequent infections give rise to many health problems including infertility. Reproductive and urinary tract infections are also considered as one of the main obstacles that come in the way of conceiving children in Kashmiri women.

“Sanitary needs of a woman are very important but unfortunately it is a taboo topic in Kashmir and there is no culture of talking about it. The society has observed a complete silence over the needs of women,” said Rifat Amin, a sales girl in a hosiery shop in Lal Chowk. When asked about her thoughts regarding the less number of female toilets in the city center, Rifat said, “I don’t care about how many toilets are there. I will not use them anyways. I can’t imagine going to a toilet which is in the middle of a market and has common entrance for males and females.”

The shop where Rifat works as a salesgirl doesn’t have a washroom and she and few other girls visit a nearby mall or a restaurant when in need of using a toilet.

“I agree that the structure and location is also a problem. It is true that public toilets for women are not mostly made use of because of their locations and common entrance; but our hands are tied. We don’t get land at the desired places,” said Ghulam Rasool Dar, Sanitation Officer (Central).

There are around 75 public toilets in Srinagar out of which only 11 are for females. “We have received applications from general public regarding the need of more toilets but unless and until we get the land for the same, we won’t be able to help,” the officer added.

Living with the absence of a toilet may somehow be managed in normal days but when a menstruating woman is out for her job or some other work, it causes a perpetual agony to her. Sanitary napkins, if not changed frequently, become breeding ground for infectious bacteria besides causing uneasiness, skin irritation and rashes. “Those days I work from home. There is no place where one can change and wash,” said Rehana Aslam who works in a boutique in Goni Khan. “It is difficult to be a woman in this place. We can suffer but we cannot talk about our sufferings.” 

The culture of silence runs deep in Kashmiri society. As long as the society thinks within the patriarchal definitions of shame and honor, and measures a woman’s chastity by her silence and tolerance, Kashmir will continue to remain a difficult place for its women.

This story was done under Media Awards Programme, 2016, An annual media fellowship by National Foundation of India