Pune: The 'Occupy Men's Toilet' campaign started by women in China to protest against the lack of sanitation facilities for them is beginning to grip the imagination of women in the city.
Activists, working women and college students are now saying that if the 78 newly elected women representatives in the civic house do nothing on the issue, they will launch a similar drive in the city.
The PMC has been allocating money for women's toilets since 2009 and it even decided to build toilets under the JNNURM. Toilet projects were also mooted on a buy, own and transfer (BOT) basis. But precious little has come of it, and three years on none of the projects have progressed beyond the drawing board.
"In 2009, Rs 60 lakh was allocated for public toilets and this was increased to Rs 1 crore in 2010. It is not the funds but lack of political will that is responsible for the lack of toilets in the city," said RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar.
The PMC decided that public toilets would be built on BOT basis. "The standing committee pulled back its proposal of building fibre public toilets since the material is not conducive to our health," Kumbhar said.
According to the World Health Organisation, there should be one public toilet for every 100 people. In the city, there is one public toilet for 9,100 people.
Activist Mukta Manohar said it was unfortunate that women had to fight for these basic amenities.
"When thousands of people hit the streets in protest against such apathy, the administration will have no option but to take notice," Manohar said.
She also said that the upcoming Women's Day was just the right occasion to conduct such protests.
Health activist Chetan Gandhi, who has been raising the issue of separate public toilets for women for the past few years, said the PMC had only reserved 63 blocks for public toilets and that too on a temporary basis.
"Infections and kidney stone are the most common problems among women," Gandhi said.
Woman activist Vidya Bal even petitioned the high court in this regard in September.
"Besides protesting on the streets, it's the responsibility of newly elected women corporators to take up this issue in the General Body meeting. This time women corporators already outnumber men. If they ignore the issue, they have no right to sit in the House," Bal said.
Neha Visani, a student of Wadia College, said, "Women should be provided the same facilities that men enjoy. A movement like the Occupy Men's Toilet in China must be initiated here. Even the pay toilets are filthy as ever.
Are the women who have their menstrual cycles or those who are pregnant supposed to sit at home to avail of clean washrooms?"
Esha Goyal, an executive with a marketing firm said women must shed inhibitions and raise their voice against such injustice.
Nikita Smyth, a student, said, "The movement in China is perfectly logical. Where else will the women go if there are toilets only for men all around? It is a bold step but we must not hesitate to take such steps if pushed against the wall."
Former mayors blame citizens for opposing toilets in their respective area and raising hygiene issues.
Former mayor Mohansingh Rajpal said that he had made a budgetary provision of Rs 2 crore in his tenure but he could complete only 60 per cent of the work. "At least 25 locations were opposed by the citizens and the project was further delayed because of administrative issues," he said.
Rajpal's predecessor Rajalaxmi Bhosale said she too had proposed a Rs 1 crore project but the PMC could not find land for the structures. Bhosale, who was first elected in 1997, constructed five units in Hadapsar.
China's equal toilet rights movement
Fed up with long queues for women at public toilets, 23-year-old student Li Tingting and 20 other women marched into a men's public toilet in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou carrying colourful placards calling for equal waiting times for both men and women. Tingting now plans to take her protest to Beijing, where China's leaders will gather next month for the annual meeting of the country's parliament.