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Toilets: Equal versus Equitable Distribution

Dalia Vainer, BBA 2016

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A few weeks ago I was in a Berlin airport and found myself waiting in a long line to use the washroom, once again asking myself a question that every women has once considered: Should I just run and use the men’s bathroom instead? Luckily, the woman in front of me was far more desperate and decided to take the plunge only to get kicked out immediately. I gladly gave her spot back to her and struck up a conversation which is when I uncovered a pivotal detail in my little story: there were 3 stalls in the men’s washroom – the exact same number of stalls as in the women’s bathroom. Yet, for some reason, we still found ourselves waiting abysmally longer than men for equal bladder relief.


So why is it that more often than not women find themselves waiting for washrooms in public areas (think: airports, concert halls, conference centers, bars) whereas men need not stress? Is this problem a result of ineffective architectural planning or is it a failure to acknowledge that forcing women to wait to use the washroom is an inhumane form of public shaming?


In honour of International Women’s Day that passed last month, I’d like to pay homage to the age-old problem of the disproportion of toilets towards women. We don’t want equality – we want equity. Here’s why:


  1. Women sit to urinate. This is a crazy phenomenon that many people are still adjusting to, but it’s true! We do in fact undergo a multi-step pre-urination process, which includes removing a layer or layers of clothing in order to sit/squat for a period of time until our bladders have been emptied. (Side note: There is a group of entrepreneurs that have created a urine spout designed to let women pee standing up, just like men. It’s kind of weird but worth checking out.)
  2. We need room. “There’s not enough space, there’s not enough toilets, and that’s why we have long line-ups” explained Mary Ellen McMurtry, a Nova-Scotia-based consultant who wrote her thesis on western public toilet design. All of the unbuttoning and movement takes up a lot of space and doing so in a crammed environment only lengthens the process.
  3. We don’t want everyone to know that we need to use the washroom. Need I elaborate?


I know what you’re thinking; this is a deep-seated gender equality issue on our hands but, Dalia, what can we do?! Fear not, 4 years of business school and a specialization in operations management has finally come to use! I propose the following:


If women are going to wait a considerable amount of time to use the washroom, why don’t men do so as well? Instead of efficient planning, let’s just embarrass everyone. I say, leave one stall and one urinal for the men and let both genders wait to use the washroom equally. Let’s publicly shame everyone!


Or, as a less amusing alternative, we should designate a proportional – instead of equal – number of stalls and urinals in each washroom to ensure that no one has to do their desperate dance.


Either way, it’s time to quit stalling and make this issue Number One (puns intended).

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