Recognizing Toilet Rights

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By Jonathan Monis

I once had an experience that I can’t forget: a time when I had to rush to the nearest restroom because I really had to relieve myself. Alas, I got to a restroom only to find out that access required payment. I had to look for 10 pesos in my purse, and that was when I discovered that all my money was in large bills. It was a bad time to be stonewalled.

Pay toilets are popular these days. They plague not only malls, but also other public places such as bus stations, marketplaces, and parks. In some establishments, optional donation boxes are present as an alternative scheme. However, if you do not contribute, you will be informed to do so anyway. If it is below five pesos, they will force you to give more.

It irks me whenever I see pay toilets without the provision of free ones. I know that some people who are well-off prefer cleaner toilet facilities with services beyond the basics. That’s fine, for as long as free toilets are also publicly provided. While I have my aforementioned bad experience with pay toilets, the main reason for my exasperation is the realization that it violates the rights of people to sanitation and health. Furthermore, the ones greatly affected are poor people.


Toilets and Public Health

Even before modern concepts of public health were developed, public health was largely seen in the context of hygiene and sanitation. Early progressive civilizations, such as the Egyptian and Roman empires, recognized the importance of managing human waste. The science for sanitation began even earlier than the discovery of penicillin as an antibiotic, and the breakthrough of hand-washing in medical discipline.

It is important to remember that, without good sanitation, serious diseases can originate from unclean water as well as unsafe human waste disposal. The Cholera Outbreak occurred in London, shaking both Europe and the rest of the world. It is a perfect example of the importance of sanitation and clean water, especially for public health practitioners. The dedication of Dr. John Snow to learn the cause of the outbreak gave birth to the modern concepts of epidemiology.

Though sanitation has always been a concern since then, diarrheal and water-borne diseases still discommode the world, especially in developing countries. The battle against water-borne diseases is cannot be won without proper sanitation and clean water.


Pay Toilets and Social Inequity

The concept of pay toilet accentuates social and health inequity between the rich and the poor. In addition, it emphasizes the insufficiency of toilet facilities in the country. It is an emerging issue, but nobody sees it as an important matter; since it has become a norm, everyone has been blinded to the problem.

At present, a lot of men are satisfied with splashing their liquid waste on the walls of establishments or behind electric posts on streets rather than look for the nearest toilet (if available). People with a higher sense of responsibility control the urge and wait for the moment they reach their homes.

It is also not an uncommon scene to see a guy urinating and to smell a ureic odor when we pass by the streets. Though there are local policies that prohibit doing such actions, do they consider our friends who live through peddling? How can they survive a day without access to basic toilet facilities? To those who are homeless and penniless, how can they engage in the most basic sanitation methods? I don’t think these people are exempted from these policies, and toilet services are not publicly provided by the government.

Photo by Vanessa G. Caday

Which leads me back to the issue of toilet rights. Failure to recognize toilet rights is unconscionable. Everybody deserves to have an access to decent toilet facilities. People should realize that the government’s failure to provide public toilet facilities violates their human rights. Moreover, improper sanitation greatly affects children and will continue to endanger lives because of water-borne diseases if the government fails to act.

I see toilet and sanitation just like education and health: social services that every Filipino should enjoy. Paying for toilet access is tantamount to out-of-pocket spending for healthcare and high tuition fees among state colleges and universities. Advocates protest and fight for an improved healthcare system and for higher subsidy of basic and higher education. But why are we letting our society be deprived of another basic social service?

We should not wake up one day surrounded by pay toilets before we realize that access to it is also a human right.

Now is the right time to take action and attend to our toilet rights. Just like what Antoine de Saint Exupéry said, “When you’ve finished with your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care.”


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