In the US, we may prefer not to use whatever restroom is available when the need arises but, hey, we can usually find one. The story is very different in India: While the country is enjoying rapid economic development, women in particular lack access to toilets, says the New York Times. More than half of Indian households have no toilet according to recent census data; that figure has actually increased as more people have left rural areas for the cities, where many live in slums.
Whether in urban or rural areas, women face discrimination to address a basic human need. In the countryside, they (like men) relieve themselves in fields, but women often do so in groups before dawn, for safety. In the cities, women — unlike men — often have to pay to use the toilet.
In Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India’s largest city, activists have begun a campaign for what is being called the Right to Pee. Minu Gandhi describes this as a “basic civic right…. a human right.” Mumbai has a long way to go towards providing this right:
…millions of people depend on public toilets, which are usually in dark and filthy buildings that operate as male-controlled outposts. The municipal government provides 5,993 public toilets for men, compared with only 3,536 for women. Men have an additional 2,466 urinals. (A 2009 study found an even greater imbalance in New Delhi, the national capital, with 1,534 public toilets for men and 132 for women.)
Almost always, a male attendant oversees these toilets, collecting fees. Petty corruption is rampant in India, and public toilets are no exception: Men must pay to use a toilet but can use urinals free (based on the premise that urinals, usually just a wall and a drainage trench, do not need water). But women are regularly charged to urinate, despite regulations saying they should not be.
The fee to use the public toilets is often just a few rupees (a few pennies). But that is money that must be used sparingly in a country where the government has defined the urban poor as those who live on 29 or fewer rupees a day.