Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state? (and experiences from around the world)

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  • paresh
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Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state?

Dear all,
Sharing a recent article that reiterates the fact that most public toilets continue to be in a deplorable state. For Women, not only are the number of facilities far less than that for men, but also the status is worse. Most women prefer to hold urine than use public toilets which adversely affects their health.

Despite their less number,  public toilets for women  mostly are in unusable conditions. Most women tend to avoid these public washrooms due to their extremely unhygienic conditions. According to an online survey conducted by women empowerment organisation Pinkishe and a feminine hygiene company Sanfe, 90 per cent of Indian women are afraid of using public washrooms. 
The findings of this survey titled 'Say No To Dirty Toilets' stated, "that the public washrooms -- be it the workplace, shopping malls or hotels -- are not clean and suitable to use in the country”. In the survey, most of the travellers and shoppers admitted that “ holding urine is the only alternative  for using dirty toilets followed by urinating in semi-squat and wiping dirty toilets”.

Wondering why public toilets in the western countries are generally clean and usable? Is it literacy or culture or the presence of caretakers or is it something else? 

Regards
paresh
Paresh Chhajed-Picha
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  • SusannahClemence
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Re: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state?

What a good question!
Speaking solely from my own 67 years of personal experience of UK toilets, I would say it has taken a long time to get to the level of cleanliness we now expect - which is not universal.
As a child I recall public toilet cubicles had shit wiped on the walls due to lack of toilet paper, and urine on the seats and floors due to users squatting rather than sitting. A self-perpetuating situation. 
I think it's been a steady effort over decades: cleaning, sometimes physical presence of attendants, heating when it's cold, ventilation to reduce smell, attractive colourful decoration, friendly messaging on posters, even art - everything that makes the toilet feel like it's your own place. And for European habits, plenty of soft toilet paper.
The worst is when it feels like you are being told off: fixed steel seats "to protect from vandalism", signs warning you what not to do, stainless steel plate instead of mirror, bars over windows, cold, pools of bleach on the floor, no toilet paper so you have to use tissues from your pocket (which then block the loo). You just want to get out as quickly as possible.
Another important factor is space: enough floor space to get in and out, clean, dry floor to pull down trousers and not worry the cuffs will get wet, and clean dry surfaces and hooks to put bags, coats etc.
Hand washing facility inside the cubicle is an occasional bonus. 
You have made me reflect, Paresh! Things have got better.
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state? (and experiences from around the world)

Hi Paresh and all,

Regarding your questions: "Wondering why public toilets in the western countries are generally clean and usable? Is it literacy or culture or the presence of caretakers or is it something else? "

I agree with Susannah that at least some public toilets in European countries have improved a lot in recent years or the last decade. I can say that for Germany, the public toilets along highways used to be pretty bad but are now generally very good. They usually now have private companies who manage them. If you want to use one you have to pay say 0.70 Euros, and they give you back a voucher of 0.50 Eur which you can spend in the shop that is attached. This works quite well I think.

But public toilets that are "unattended", like in parks, are often still bad. And vandalism is a huge problem.

On the other hand here in Australia, the public toilets are fantastic and the behaviour of the public towards them is unbelievably good in my experience. (I must sound like a broken record, I already wrote about it here on the forum three years ago: https://forum.susana.org/170-shared-toilets-community-toilets-or-public-toilets/16971-strategic-plans-for-public-toilet-management-in-australia )

Even without any minders/janitors present they always seem to be available everywhere for free, clean, with toilet paper, often (not always) with soap, not vandalised, ... I can't speak for the whole of Australia but at least here in the state of Queensland (where Brisbane is) this is my experience. In the national parks they are often composting toilets or hybrid ones (small amount of water plus composting).

One day I'd love to read someone's PhD thesis which would explain how Australia managed to get their public toilets into such
good condition. Are they the winner if there was a world ranking? I assume New Zealand's public toilets are similarly good. 

Kind regards,
Elisabeth
 
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  • paresh
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Re: Why are public toilets in India in such a deplorable state? (and experiences from around the world)

Thank you Susannah
Your response makes  me feel good every time I read it. Thanks

Both the responses indicate that attaining a stage where one can expect hygienic and clean public toilets to be a rather long and complex process. Also probably explains why technological fixes are not a long lasting solution to this  problem which is only a manifestation of the many ills prevailing in the society. While well designed facilities are necessary, they are not the only condition. The general attitude of the society towards public facilities and setting up systems to incentivise users to keep them clean and functional is important. However as the two of you also highlight, getting over this classic wicked problem is challenging but not impossible.

Really curious to know more about the history of public toilets in Australia, would be great if someone could suggest some reference to get a hang of it. And if it is not already documented, I'd agree with Elisabeth that it is worth more than 1 PhD theses.

Regards
paresh
Paresh Chhajed-Picha
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  • reidharvey7734
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Re: Best materials for toilets

Hi Paresh, thanks for bringing this problem to light, as usual.  Those in need of sanitation will get this when they are the ones doing production and implementation.  Sorry I sound like a broken record, posting the following presentation again.  This was two months ago in the WEDC Conference, and is entitled, *Sanitary Stoneware Toilets, Production Closer to the Need.*  Whatever the toilet is made of, cleaning agents are needed, but the glassy surface of sanitary ceramic toilets can be cleaned to a significant extent by water only.   drive.google.com/file/d/1_T5ejTp8JmyBp2t...7Oa/view?usp=sharing
All the best,
Reid
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Niagara Falls, NY USA
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