Harare toilets: Every woman’s nightmare
Harare’s public toilets are in such a deplorable state that very few are still usable.
Gender Lens with Moses Mugugunyeki
Most of them are perpetually blocked, making them virtually no-go areas.
Local authorities have been blamed for failing to maintain the few toilets whose scarce availability already impacts negatively on women.
The city has, for years now, been facing serious water and sanitation problems. This fact was confirmed by that frightful cholera outbreak which claimed over 4 000 lives in 2008.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has pledged to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to basic sanitation by 2015 as defined by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
With only a year remaining to 2015, achieving the MDG sanitation target poses a major challenge to the local authority, given it’s clear failure to match the rapid pace of urbanisation.
Only 87 out of Harare’s 113 public toilets have some semblance of usability. The council claims the 26 that are “out of order” are being attended to.
“Harare has 113 public toilets distributed throughout the suburbs and the CBD (Central Business District). Presently 87 are in working order. The 26 that are defective are receiving attention,” said Harare City Council (HCC), spokesperson Leslie Gwindi.
Gwindi refuted claims that the council’s toilets were in a deplorable state.
“Council does routine maintenance of the toilets to ensure they are accessible and available for use by the public.”
However, a survey carried out by The Standard showed that most public toilets are in an appalling state, making it difficult for anyone to use them — especially women.
The survey also revealed that residents, especially women find themselves in a quandary when nature calls. Snake-like queues have become the order of the day at ladies’ toilets at bus termini such as Fourth Street, Copacabana and Market Square.
Last year, there were instances when men were forced to share a toilet with women at Market Square after the “ladies” toilet was closed to the public, a scenario which placed women in a difficult position.
Harare Residents Trust (HRT) said the condition of public toilets in the capital city was so deplorable the trust had been forced to submit the toilets’ status to the council’s Waste Management Department.
“So far we have submitted the Central Business District toilets status to the Waste Management Department and we have asked them to clear garbage collecting on toilet rooftops and we are yet to get a response,” said Pretty Chabuda Zhakata, HRT committees officer.
Zhakata said the trust was advocating for the abolishment of pay-toilets especially at market places and commuter omnibus termini.
“Pay-toilets are the reason why most people are relieving themselves at undesignated places or using empty plastic bottles,” she said.
Presenting the 2014 Harare City budget in December last year, council’s former finance committee chairperson, Allan Markham said council would make all the public toilets accessible to those who would want to use them.
“The state of the public toilets in the city has been unacceptable and the 2014 [budget] provides for the refurbishment and restoration of public toilets,” he said.
Lack of sanitation facilities and poor hygiene causes water-borne diseases, such as diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and several parasitic infections which are not uncommon in Harare. Prevalence of these diseases and others linked to poor sanitation is highest among women and children.
Focus on gender differences is of particular importance with regard to sanitation initiatives, and gender-balanced approaches should be encouraged in plans and structures for implementation by the local authority.
HCC should use simple measures, such as putting up toilets at public places, to reduce health-risks for people, especially women. The availability and accessibility of toilets also reduces violence against women, which may occur when women have to relieve themselves in the open or seek toilets inside bars, whose clientele are men.
The council must also ensure that its overall sanitation frameworks are gender-sensitive and earmark funds for hygiene programmes and separate sanitation facilities for men and women.
Last year, HCC was rated among the best five local authorities that have shown particular commitment and dedication in the implementation of the Gender Links’ Centres of Excellence (COE) process.
The COE process aims at raising awareness of the gender impact of policies, and also highlights the gap between policy and what is obtaining on the ground.
Gender mainstreaming in local governance is one of the targets of the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development.
The regional convention is aimed at promoting women’s empowerment and eliminating gender-based discrimination through the achievement of gender equity.