Mumbaikars Face Acute Gender Disparity in Accessing Public Toilets, Says Report

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Out of four public toilets, only one is available for women; Of the city’s 6,800 community toilet blocks, 69 per cent lack water connections, and 60 per cent are without electricity.

Mohammad Alamullah | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – A recent report by the Praja Foundation, an NGO focused on accountable governance, has revealed a significant gender disparity in the availability of public toilets in Mumbai. According to the report, titled “Status of Civic Issues in Mumbai,” only one in four public toilet seats was available for women in the city as of last year. In some areas, the disparity is even more pronounced, with only one toilet seat for women for every six seats for men.

The report, released earlier this week, bases its findings on data obtained from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) through the Right to Information Act. The study underscores a critical aspect of urban infrastructure that has often been overshadowed by issues like pay inequality and job opportunities.

“Currently, there is one public toilet seat per 752 men and one per 1,820 women in Mumbai,” the report states. This ratio is starkly higher than the guidelines recommended by the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), which suggests one public toilet seat for every 100-400 men and 100-200 women.

Dismal Conditions

The report also brings to light the poor condition of public toilets in Mumbai. Of the city’s 6,800 community toilet blocks, 69 per cent lack water connections, and 60 per cent are without electricity.

Milind Mhaske, CEO of Praja Foundation, highlighted the severity of the issue. “The situation is even more dire in areas with high floating populations due to their commercial and cultural significance. The most glaring imbalance is seen in C ward (Marine Lines, Chira Bazaar, and Girgaon), where there is only one toilet seat for women compared to six seats for men. Addressing this gender gap must be a priority to ensure equal access to toilets for women,” he said.

Challenges and Inefficiencies

The BMC, which manages sanitation services for Mumbai’s population of 1.28 crore, has been under a state-appointed administrator since 2022. The delay in elections to select its 227 elected representatives due to pending ward boundary reorganisation adds to the challenges faced by the corporation.

The Praja Foundation’s report reveals that the current number of community toilet seats can serve only 36 per cent of Mumbai’s slum population. The total number of toilet blocks across Mumbai’s 24 administrative wards stands at 7,646. Ward M/E (Govandi) has the highest number of seats (491 blocks and 10,060 seats), while Ward C (Chira Bazaar-Kalbadevi) has the least (32 blocks and 416 seats).

As of December 2023, Ward C not only fell short in the number of toilet seats but also exhibited the worst gender disparity, with a ratio of six seats for men to one for women. Ward P/S and other wards such as B, D, E, H/W, L, and T also show significant gender imbalances.

Hygiene and Safety Concerns

Mhaske emphasised that merely having a toilet block is not enough. “Safety and hygiene, including access to electricity and water, are equally important,” he said. Currently, only 31 per cent of Mumbai’s toilets have piped water connections.

“The absence of water connections in toilets reflects poor hygiene, cleanliness, and the inability to provide basic sanitation services to the public. Water is particularly important where toilet facilities also serve as a source of non-potable water,” the report highlighted.

Ward K/E (Andheri East) was identified as the most problematic, with 87 per cent of toilet blocks lacking both water and electricity. Similarly, Ward R/S (Kandivali) has 76 per cent of toilet blocks without electricity and 82 per cent without water.

Lack of Sanitary Facilities

The report also noted the absence of sanitary napkin vending machines in several toilets. Wards P/N (Malad), M/E (Govandi), G/N (Dadar), and R/N (Dahisar), which have large slum populations, lack these machines entirely.

Despite an 81 per cent increase in the BMC’s budget estimates for solid waste management (SWM) and sanitation over the past five years — from Rs 2,966 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 5,376 crore in 2024-25 — the report indicates persistent gaps in gender equality and toilet facilities.

“Despite the higher allocation, we see a clear gap in terms of gender inequality and toilet facilities,” Mhaske remarked.

Moving Forward

The findings by Praja Foundation call for urgent measures to address the gender disparity in public toilet access and improve the overall condition of sanitation facilities in Mumbai. Stakeholders, including elected representatives, citizens, the media, and government officials, must collaborate to bridge these gaps and ensure equitable access to sanitation for all.

“Addressing these issues requires a concerted effort to prioritise gender equality in urban planning and public infrastructure development. Only then can we hope to see substantial improvements in the quality of life for all residents of Mumbai,” Mhaske concluded.

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