Where available, toilets often unhygienic and unmaintained
SRINAGAR: Naseema, 45, a resident of Lalbazar, is a government employee in the Handicraft sector. When it comes to using the bathroom at work, she comes under stress each day as her office lacks a separate toilet facility for its women staff. So do most government offices in the Valley, creating a tough situation for female government employees every day of their working lives.
“In my office, we have only two wash rooms, one for our boss and another for other employees, including the female employees in the department.
“Most times, we are unable to use the washroom. It is closed many times because of there being a male employee inside. We then have to wait until he comes out,” she said.
“Sometime we feel very offended when we are inside the washroom and a male colleague knocks on the door. We have approached our boss many times about this, but as usual the authorities don’t pay any heed to our issues,” Naseema further said.
The situation in schools and colleges is even worse, mostly in those run by the government and located outside Srinagar. “Most schools don’t have proper toilet facilities,” said Mahjabeen, a teacher at Government Middle School, Safa Kadal. “And the ones that have toilets don’t have separate ones for boys and girls.”
“The problems are compounded for menstruating women,” Mahjabeen continued. “I am constrained to take off for two days every month. The reason is that the school has only one washroom for teachers, that too an unhygienic one as there is no sweeper to clean it. In an emergency, I can only stay home for lack of a place to change.
“What else can I do? The absence of washrooms affects women’s health adversely. As common as it is for males to defecate in the open, women in a society like Kashmir’s do not have that option. They either have to control their bladder or use the unusable washrooms available to them, increasing the danger of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other health problems,” she said.
Asiya Jan is a government employee in the Old Secretariat. She too told Kashmir Reader that women at her office have to face lots of problems, with their being forced to either take off or to arrange with other female colleagues to stand guard for them.
The women generally go for the first option, as is borne out by the locked door of one of the washrooms. The caretaker of the said facility explained that he has to keep the door of the ladies’ side locked as men often walk in on them. These facilities often have no water or dustbins for the disposal of sanitary pads.
Another government employee said they have only two washrooms for women and these are not even maintained properly. “The taps are broken. The flush doesn’t work. The toilets are stinking, but we have no option but to use them. We can’t obviously defecate in the open. We have complained about it so many times but to no avail. Sometimes I prefer to wait till I reach home instead of using these dirty wash rooms,” she said
Previously, the Rural Development Department had issued an order asking its officials to instruct BDOs and DPOs to prepare district plans for government offices to build toilets for female employees. As is evident, little has come of this initiative.