A ‘period room’ in a toilet block in Mumbai stakes a claim on the city — on behalf of its women
One of the many ways in which Indian cities and towns tell women that they are unwanted in public spaces is by the absence of a woman’s toilet. In metropolises like Mumbai and Delhi, the number of toilets for men consistently outnumber those for women by a large margin; women’s toilets in large toilet blocks remain locked, especially in the evenings (because what are women doing outside the home after dark, anyway?). If they are unlocked, they are filthy — and sometimes even unsafe — spaces that women venture into at the risk of ill-health and violence. The denial of a woman’s body and its natural bodily urges, then, is not only a matter of cultural practices of shame, but it is written into the design of a city itself. A new “period room” in a Mumbai slum, the first of its kind in a public toilet, therefore, suggests a refreshing reimagination of the public space.
The Thane Municipal Corporation’s move is an attempt to inculcate menstrual hygiene, one that it wants to replicate in 120 community toilets.
The “period room” includes a urinal, a jet spray, a toilet roll-holder, soap, running water, hooks to hang clothes and a dustbin to dispose of menstrual waste — rare amenities in public toilets. For the women of the Lokmanya Nagar slum, in which few families have the luxury of a private toilet, the structure offers precious space and privacy. A study carried out by an NGO that assisted with the project found that 56 per cent of girl students in the area had no access to clean toilets in schools; nor did 18 per cent working women at their workplace.
A “period room” that does not try to hide its function as a space for menstruating women might also, hopefully, cut through the punishing taboo around periods. More importantly, it becomes a small step to stake claim on the city — on behalf of its women.