Pink toilets aim to provide all-inclusive facilities to women’s sanitation practices

New Delhi: 26-year-old Geeta Mukherjee who works as an IT consultant for past two years has been taking her cab from Connaught Place in central Delhi to Mayur Vihar in East Delhi a distance of 13 kilometres daily. Apart from traffic being a daily menace, earlier lack of public conveniences along the route was also a cause for worry. But then in 2019, Geeta was pleasantly surprised to discover a public toilet with a pink exterior.

It was an eye opening experience, equipped with facilities such as sanitary pad vending machine, incinerators, breast feeding rooms, changing rooms and everything a girl may require for her convenience. Now I don’t need to hold myself for hours like most of the girls scared of catching infections do.

Similar reactions are voiced by 36-year-old Shanti.

Never had I imagined a public toilet to be this clean and hygienic. I work as a domestic worker in the nearby residential locality and have been using the facilities of pink toilet since a year. No more do I feel the need to hunt for a safer place to use a washroom.

These were some of the responses and feedback we received as the Banega Swath India team went on a day’s field trip to check the on-ground status of the pink toilets and how it is making a difference in the capital city of Delhi. The first Pink toilet in Delhi came into existence in the year 2017 on International Day for the Girl Child, when National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, (NCPCR) and South Delhi Municipal Corporation inaugurated the first Pink Toilet in the capital city’s Vikaspuri area.

What Are Pink Toilets?

Pink toilets are more than just about the shade of the paint on these toilets. Meant for only women, these toilets do more than provide privacy to women. These toilets have sanitary pad vending machines to dispense pads at a subsidised rate of Rs. 5 per pad and even for free in a few cases. Additionally, the toilets are equipped with breastfeeding room, changing room, have disable friendly toilet seats and incinerators to dispose the sanitary napkins to prevent pollution. So, all-in-all pink toilets aim to provide all-inclusive facilities to women’s sanitation practices. Talking to NDTV about pink toilets, a senior official from New Delhi Municipal Corporation said,

Pink toilets were the need of the city to make the women feel safer.

Abhishek Dutt from South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) explains that the authorities, for years now, have been receiving a lot of complaints regarding the present condition of the female washrooms that lack in providing physical as well mental safety to women in addition to hygienic sanitation facilities. And keeping these perspectives in mind, first pink toilet was inaugurated in SDMC area.

Explaining how pink toilets are financed, Mr. Dutt added,

Pink toilets do take a bigger investment to construct but the way we initiated the concept was to build it under a Corporate Sector Responsibility (CSR) partnership. Like the one in Anupam Saket has been financed by PVR.

 

A Look At The Existing Of The Pink Toilets In The Capital

During the field trip, NDTV went on a visit to three pink toilets located under the administration of South Delhi and New Delhi Municipal Corporations to take a look at their conditions and take the feedback from the users. These toilets were chosen by NDTV simply because they have huge footfall and are easily accessible for the nearby clusters.

Anupam Saket’s Pink Toilets Making Life Easier For Thousands Of Women

One of the things common in all pink toilets were the designated caretakers, who assist users with their queries about the facilities provided in the complex and how to operate the machines like incinerator and sanitary napkin vending machine.

I work as a security guard in one of retail stores here, I find the pink toilets very comforting, I can come here and change into my uniform and also change out of it after my shift, as there is a changing room here. I like that I can buy pads at a cheaper cost, like here I have to pay Rs. 5 for a pad whereas in the market it’s between Rs. 7-8. Moreover, this place is open and inviting unlike the usual public toilets, says 29 year old Sunita who works in a 24×7 store in PVR Saket complex.

The pink toilet located in South Delhi's Saket, near PVR Anupam
The pink toilet located in South Delhi’s Saket, near PVR Anupam

Pink Toilet In The Heart Of The City – Connaught Place

The pink toilets are equipped with adequate lighting, running water; door-locks and are well-maintained thanks to the caretakers, who have been instructed to keep a check on every toilet seat after each use. On a daily basis, thousands of commuters visit Connaught Place, therefore NDMC has built two pink toilets within the one kilometre radius.

12-year-old Ritu Verma says

I’m very attracted to colour pink, when I first spotted it in CP while waiting for my school bus, I immediately went inside to experience it. The perception of public toilets was changed forever after my first visit to pink toilet.

Meanwhile her friend adds,

We thought with time it will become like the typical unhygienic public toilet and will not be fit for usage. But to our surprise, it has remained just the same as our first experience – nice and clean!

One of the pink toilets in Connaught Place
One of the pink toilets in Connaught Place

Also Read: Swachh Bharat For All? Despite Community Toilets Built, Access Remains An Issue For Slum Dwellers In Delhi

All Things Pink In Lajpat Nagar Market

In Lajpat Nagar as well, we got similar feedback from people, everyone seemed to be happy and satisfied with the pink toilets experience. 28-year-old fruit seller, Namita told us,

I work more than 12 hours a day – 7 days a week, selling fruits in the Lajpat Nagar market. I have two kids who often accompany me to work, a 5 year old girl and a 1 year old son. Earlier, me and other street vendors like me had no option but to relieve ourselves in the open as the one public washroom located nearby had only two toilet seats which were always dirty. However, after the pink toilet came into our life, this harsh reality became a thing of the past. The facilities inside are very convenient for us – be it when we need to urinate or defecate, or when I need to buy sanitary napkin and even when I need to breast-feed my baby. It’s a safe and comfortable environment.

The pink toilet in Lajpat Nagar's Central Market
The pink toilet in Lajpat Nagar’s Central Market

How Accessible Pink Toilets Are For The Women Of Delhi

We thought that Pink Toilets are very necessary for a developing country like India. We have noticed that in a lot of cases when the girls have to use toilets, a lot of them got molested or raped because they would either prefer to use the toilets in early morning or late in the night, due to the nature of the existing public toilets. Less crowds in pink toilets make it more accessible and helps them access the facilities like breast feeding or buying a sanitary napkin, Stuti Kacker former Chairperson, National Commission of Protection of Child Rights told NDTV.

She further explained that pink toilets have helped the women from lewd comments, molestation and to encourage them to relieve themselves as and when they need to, instead of waiting for a suitable time. Also, she firmly believes that these girls should be able to access menstrual hygiene management products without facing any form of harassment.

To empower and secure the women, a pink toilet as a concept is very necessary in urban Delhi, she said.

Pink Toilets Vs Female Toilets

Women from all walks of lives have been affected due to the unavailability of public toilets at one point or other. Jyoti Sharma, President, FORCE, a non-profit organisation that works in the field of sanitation in Delhi, says that the biggest advantage of a Pink toilet is that it is easily identifiable.

No woman feels comfortable, given the Indian scenario in terms of women safety, to walk on the road and walk up to a public toilet complex to find that there is no female section, just male. After all, when it comes to public toilets, there are fewer options for women than men.

She further adds that as compared to the regular female toilets, the feminine design and the holistic approach to providing overall hygiene management facilities at one place, makes it distinctly user-friendly as any woman would feel comfortable to access these. When asked about what could be done to convert all the female toilets into pink toilets, Ms. Sharma points out the necessity of security in order to ensure accessibility, she said,

At present, we will not find an existing public toilet complex in Delhi that is just for women anywhere, other than these pink toilets, of course. A female public washroom is a part of a common public toilet complex. They have the same entrance and then you split into two directions, one side would be for males and one for females. So when we talk about converting the existing toilets into pink toilets that would actually mean increasing the dividing wall between the two sections of the washrooms. Having a completely different entrance is A must to make women feel safe and comfortable; I think that’s where pink toilets play a key role in ensuring accessibility. Security experts need to be consulted to ensure overall safety of the users.

Also Read: Before And After Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Has India Finally Managed To Provide Sanitation For All In This Decade

Ms. Sharma further thinks that upgradation of the facilities is another important aspect to convert the existing toilets into pink toilets. She says that small infrastructural changes need to incorporated which can go a long way in ensuring maximum accessibility, she adds,

They certainly need to upgrade the facilities to cater to women’s needs. They normally have dustbins and hand wash facility, but upgradations like incinerators and pad vending machines even small things like having hooks for hanging bags, changing rooms, breastfeeding areas, can go a long way in ensuring an overall accessibility for women.

Conclusion

In WaterAid’s third annual analysis of the world’s toilets titled – ‘Out of Order,’ VK Madhavan, Chief Executive for WaterAid India stated,

While India is making rapid progress in improving sanitation under the ongoing Swachh Bharat Mission, we need to ensure inclusion, recognising the importance of safe and accessible toilets specific to the needs of the differently-abled, the elderly, the poorest, as well as women and adolescent girls. The lack of toilets affects women and girls disproportionately at every stage in their life, increasing their health risks manifold, while adversely impacting on their safety and dignity. We need to recognise that ending open defecation is one step towards ensuring safely managed and sustainable sanitation.

Cleanliness is an important aspect for maintaining a good health and hygiene therefore, there’s an utmost requirement for these pink toilets to be properly maintained, in order to enable the women and girls to use them. Menstrual hygiene has an undeniable stigma attached to it and pink toilets could really help provide a platform for adolescent girls to learn more about it. So far pink toilets seem to have gotten a thumbs up from women of Delhi and the concept does have many takers and also potential to be a game changer in terms of providing safe, accessible and hygienic sanitation to women.

Pink toilets will help females on a large basis, if the construction of these complexes continues to grow, but what is actually needed is more number of safer and cleaner toilet seats. Even if these are a section of a common Community Toilet Complex (like they are made now) it’s okay as they serve the purpose. Slight re-design will make them safer, more private which is the need of the hour considering the growing threat to women safety in India. Accessibility and safety are the crucial.

The concept of Pink toilets is being adopted nationwide, with states like Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka inaugurating pink toilets.

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