When we talk about the essentials of life, we animatedly discuss the right of every human to food, housing, healthcare, education and adequate clothing as per the environment.
One thing that often falls through the cracks is what activists are calling “restroom rights”.
Globally, people are waking up to the impact of the lack of proper toilet facilities upon development. In many developing countries, the lack of proper toilets actually affects access to education for girls, especially after they reach puberty.
To arrest the school dropout rate among girls, many NGOs are concentrating on building toilets in schools so that girls are assured of privacy and respect for their restroom moments.
In the early days of workplace activism, we have read and watched movies which show union workers fighting for the right of workers to a ‘loo break’ at regular intervals. And my generation remembers the early protests of male boardroom members when asked to make place for gender equality and diversity on corporate boards – that there was no allowance made in the top floor for women’s toilets.
In India, access to toilets is a very political thing and one which PM Modi flagged as essential, especially to protect women’s health. A Bollywood movie was even made called ‘Toilet: A Love Story’ about a small-town girl marrying a village boy and the couple’s fight for a private toilet which others considered a new-fangled luxury.
Recently, when the post-dinner conversation among friends turned to the need for good public restrooms in Bahrain (most of us use hotel or mall restrooms when out and about), I was shocked to be told by a construction company manager that while his company provided portaloos at work sites, it was not mandatory under labour law to do so.
We make such a noise about the humane rules which protect workers from the hottest work conditions in summer and are so busy patting our collective backs that we have overlooked this huge violation of worker rights.
When working in construction sites or when cleaning roads and public spaces, where can these men relieve themselves? We blithely advise them to avoid dehydration by drinking water regularly but forget that what goes in must come out and have not made provision for that.
This newspaper has also carried reports of truck drivers on the Causeway route not having proper toilet facilities and I believe the government did amend that. I also know of domestic workers who work in different houses and who are often not allowed to use the toilets in these homes – although they are expected to clean them.
A doctor who volunteers with the community said that lack of proper workplace toilets was leading to renal disease and kidney issues for the men.
Come to think of it, we pay more attention to our pets’ toilet needs, taking our dogs out on what we call the poop-parade, so that they can duly mark their territory; we spend serious money on cat litter so that Kitty can relieve herself in comfort. But for the worker on the lowest rung of the workplace ladder, there is no such planning.
With a growing reputation for human rights, Bahrain employers must start the process of providing such essential humane workplace conditions without the government having to enact laws to force them.