One of my many gripes about modern life is the low number of ladies' loos in public places. I cannot remember the amount of times I've stood, panicking, in the queue during the short interval at a theatre, whilst watching the men skip in and out of their facility, not a line in sight. It seems even in modern buildings, there aren't enough ladies' loos to satisfy the need.
So when I saw an article in this week's Economist about something called 'porcelain parity' I nearly wet my pants. The article argues that sanitation and women's rights are closely linked. Really? I know it's annoying that there aren't more ladies' loos in a theatre, when women obviously take much longer to do their business than men, but is it really part of the larger struggle? (Some researchers have actually worked out how much time each gender takes. Women spend twice the time of men on their pennies - I could have told them this at half the fee.)
Anyway, the lack of female loos was used as an excuse to bar women from jury service in West Virginia until 1956 as well as by a Texan firm when sacking their female staff. In poorer countries the lack of proper female loos affects girls' schooling and in India 330 million women have no access to toilets and have to go out at night risking being kidnapped, raped or bitten by snakes. This was all in the Economist article so it must be true.
My small irritation of having to queue at the theatre is a much larger problem than I imagined.
But it seems something is being done about it. New York legislated in 2005 that women must have twice as many toilets as men in new buildings, and in New Zealand there's a law under the human rights' legislation which decrees that women should not have to wait for more than three minutes to use a lavatory. In the meantime, Europe has not addressed the issue at all and in Britain there's no legislation to say that toilets should be provided for the public at all, whether male or female.
One of the suggestions of making it all fair is to have shared facilities. This way everyone would have to queue the same amount of time. But would you want to use the loo after some bearded, hairy-toed man had peed all over the seat?
Another option is the She-pee, a device that can be used by women to wee standing up in a public toilet. My good blogging friend Wildernesschic wrote an excellent and funny post about the device a few months ago. Would you, however, spend a penny in front of everyone, standing up? At Glasto perhaps, but on Oxford Street? And if in India and other poorer countries women are afraid of being assaulted while using the toilet, surely a She-pee will only make matters worse.