Where is the Toilet? Getting Down to Basics in Accessing Women’s Rights
HUMAN RIGHTS, PLURAL LEGALITIES AND GENDERED REALITIES: PATHS ARE MADE BY WALKING, Anne Hellum, Shaheen Sardar Ali, Julie Stewart, Amy Tsanga, eds., Harare: Weaver Books, 2006
12 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2009
Date Written: October 29, 2009
This chapter seeks to highlight the institutional embeddedness of unequal gender relations in the public and private sphere of life and its implications for effective enjoyment of women’s human rights. Using access to a toilet at health facilities in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan as an example, it aims to share some thoughts and experiences on women’s real capacity to access health facilities and its linkages with the overall status of women in Pakistan. The chapter argues that in a society where the female form is barely visible, women’s perception of their own bodies and how they are perceived in the social context makes it difficult for them to operate in and engage in the public sphere. Since health and wellbeing entails interaction in a de-segregated public space (in hospitals, dispensaries, health centres), women’s right to health is compromised as a result of this constraint, in particular where special needs of women (such as a separate toilet or just a toilet) are not taken into account. Women’s failure to access health facilities may be attributable to entrenched gender roles that transcend social class and permeate public policy, legislative enactments and implementation mechanisms. Operationalizing and actualizing human rights clearly requires something more than statements of intent, policy formulation and legal documents, especially in a plural legal setting where unwritten norms often are more powerful than the black letter law. It calls for that extra mile in the human rights walk to try to capture what may be considered too mundane a subject for academic discourse. The importance of a toilet and facilities in public spaces is one such mundane yet crucial element in our endeavour to make women’s human rights a reality. The purpose of this chapter is to argue that a seemingly ancillary service (in this case availability of a toilet for women) to the provision of health, needs to be canvassed in the discourse on women’s access to a range of rights due to engagement with the public space. The chapter attempts to demonstrate that despite the presence and availability of health services, the absence or inadequacy of facilities such as toilets for women can hugely restrain their access to health services, both as users and service providers.
Keywords: womens' rights
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