Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Taking Women's Bodily Functions into Account in Urban Planning and Policy: Public Toilets and Menstruation

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Taking Women's Bodily Functions into Account in Urban Planning and Policy: Public Toilets and Menstruation

Article excerpt

Introduction: what is the problem?

Over half the world's population live in cities and migration from the countryside is growing every day, but many areas lack basic sanitation and drainage (Burdett and Sudjic, 2012). This is an urban issue that clearly needs to be addressed by planners. Over two billion people lack adequate toilet provision (George, 2008; Greed, 2006). Addressing sanitation, water supply and drainage are key components of any planning agenda, alongside environmental policy and health. Yet, until relatively recently, urban planning and geography have been rather coy about anything to do with the 'city and the body', including bodily functions (Longhurst, 1997). Although 'planning is for people' (Broady, 1968), in both urban planning and architecture, there has been little awareness of the physical, corporeal needs and biological characteristics of different groups in society (Bichard, 2015). It is argued that there is little disaggregation of sanitation data or planning policy analysis from a gender perspective, as to the specific needs of, and implications for, women, compared with men (Sommer and Sahin, 2013). Whilst faecal and urinary matters may sometimes be discussed within the context of human waste, menstruation barely seems to exist as an issue. Yet women comprise around half (49.59 per cent) the world's population (World Bank, 2015), and, at any one time, around a quarter of women of childbearing age will be menstruating (Jewitt and Ryley, 2014).

As will be explained, there seems to be little recognition of the daily personal problems that urban citizens encounter when confronted with a lack of toilet provision or of the social, economic and spatial limitations this lacuna causes (Greed, 2003). In many developing countries, not only are there very few public toilets in the Western sense, most households have no private toilets either. There are entire countries that are 'under-toileted', where open defecation and urination is the normal practice, with major implications for health and well-being (Black and Fawcett, 2008; Fisher, 2008). In most societies, there is less condemnation of men who urinate and defecate in public, whereas women risk shame, attack and condemnation if they behave in a similar way; despite this, public toilets for women remain very limited.

The new 'mobilities paradigm' shows that the social barriers which would-be transport users encounter, as well as technical transportation infrastructure considerations, have a major impact on the chances of achieving transport planning objectives (Sheller and Urry, 2006). People's journeys are constrained spatially by the bladder's leash (Kitchen and Law, 2001). Research has demonstrated that public toilet provision constitutes a vital missing link that would enable the creation of more sustainable, accessible, healthy, equitable and inclusive cities (Bichard et al., 2003; Hanson et al., 2007). If the government wants people to leave their cars at home and travel by public transport, cycle or walk, then the provision of public toilets is essential, especially at transport termini. Public transport passengers, pedestrians and cyclists - unlike car drivers - cannot speed to the nearest motorway service station to use the toilet when they find the local public toilets have been closed. It should not be assumed that only a minority will need on-street public toilets, because alternative off-street toilet options are readily available (Greed, 2012). Therefore, it is argued that public toilet provision should be taken onboard as a key aspect of urban design, plan-making and urban policy.

Structure of the argument and definitions

This paper gives an overview of the 'toilet problem' and flags key issues, both globally (in the developing world) and locally (in the UK) as an exemplar of Western nations, in order to raise awareness of the relevance of toilet provision to urban planning. First, the overall global toilet situation is discussed, with particular consideration concerning how the lack of recognition regarding the importance of toilet provision affects the chances of successful implementation of international development goals. …

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