Protect Your Toilet Rights

February 13, 2009
By

Toilet availability is a human right!    

On 28 July 2010, United Nations Resolution 64/292 explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that these are essential to all other human rights.  UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, visited the United States in 2011 and was shocked to find so many Americans lacking access to toilets and basic hygiene. Read her  report to the UN General Assembly.  Here are ten ways you can protect your toilet rights.

  1. Talk about human rights and basic needs. Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human. The need is so fundamental, so axiomatic, that we don’t even discuss it. But by not talking about it we are losing our toilet rights.  We’re taxpayers, customers and fare-paying riders who are frequently denied use of a toilet in public places, businesses and urban transit systems. Start the conversation: break society’s silence on discussing restroom issues.
  2. Speak out when you’re denied access to a toilet.  Taking about the issue is the right thing to do. The number and type of toilets in a building is based on occupancy numbers. If you’re a customer or visitor with business, inquire why toilets are off limits. Get details and take photos if store managers claim toilets are out of order or located in stock areas where customers are not allowed.  Follow up with a call to local code officials or a letter to the media. If tax-supported public restrooms in your community open late, close early or are shut down for the season, get the facts, rally your neighbors and work to keep them open.
  3. Use strong stories to appeal to shared values of  dignity and comfort.  Successful advocacy is often leveraged by a single individual who steps forward to report an embarrassing accident. Embarrassment about not having a toilet when one needs one touches everyone.  People react with a deep sense of identification, compassion and outrage.
  4. Commend those who operate good restrooms.  Commercial districts and individual businesses that understand that restrooms are good for business generally have good restrooms. Recognize them with thanks or awards and use them as positive examples when contacting the media.
  5. Support research. There are huge gaps in research and policy regarding public restrooms.  Questions that need to be asked and answered include:  To what extent are public toilets essential to active living, healthy aging, and childhood fitness?  How many adults and children hesitate to take public transit, walk or use parks because there are no restrooms?  How can public toilets be built into the urban streetscape and what would be the impact on livability?  For festivals and events why don’t Americans have the environmentally friendly dry competing toilets that are used in Europe?
  6. Make sure words “restroom” or “toilet” appear in surveys.  Thanks to taboos and societal niceties, people rarely initiate public discussion about their need to use a bathroom when they are away from home.  This was illustrated in Arlington, Virginia, known for its family-friendly parks and miles of bike trails.  For years, park officials and citizen activists conducted research to find out what services people wanted in the parks. Public restrooms were not mentioned.  It wasn’t until researchers designed a questionnaire that asked respondents to rank priorities, that “year round restrooms” shot up to second place (after drinking fountains) on a long list.  Make sure that surveys allow people to use their voices in favor of something they really want but have been conditioned to not talk about.
  7. Lay out the options for citizens and officials to consider and choose. Following six months of study, PHLUSH researchers reported to the community and concluded with six options for increasing restroom availability.  Each option begins with a vision, outlines physical facilities and management alternative and lists steps “to make it happen.”    Option 1:  Upgrading Existing Public Toilets and Keeping Them Open  Option 2:  Public Sanitation Units in Parking Lots  Option 3:  Storefront Rest Stop  Option 4:  Automatic Public Toilets  Option 5: Private Initiative to Revitalize an Historic Comfort Station  Option 6:  An Artist-Designed Toilet  Significant action by the city of Portland resulted on five of the options.  Option 4 addressed citizen inquiries but was quickly ruled out when more attractive alternatives became clear.
  8. Talk to your  Congressional Rep about the Federal Public Restroom Requirements Initiative.  This initiative of the American Restroom Association calls on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to take action. Today the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides the regulations that ensure that employees “will not suffer the adverse health effects that can result if toilets are not available.”  DHHS, however, has the mandate to protect the health of all Americans, not just employees. DHHS needs to spell out the public health requirements related to toilet facilities. This will not require new legislation, only that an existing mandate be met. This short slide show is a concise presentation of the issues. Ask your Congressperson and  Senators to take action on this.
  9. Celebrate World Toilet Day On November 19.  The annual campaign of the World Toilet Organization is now officially recognized by the United Nations.  November 19th brings attention to the need for toilets, especially the 40% of the world’s people who do not have them.  Other international days of advocacy are World Water Day on March 22 and Global Handwashing Day on October 15. Toolkits for each contain information, posters, videos, and social media messages. They enable local activists and organizers to start the conversation about toilet issues in their community, to launch sponsorship of a public toilet facility or to develop an educational awareness program that can mobilize the commitment of a new generation.
  10. Get in touch with PHLUSH.  Email us. Tell us what’s on your mind.  Tell us about neighborhood parks, business districts or transit centers where toilets are most needed.  Use the PHLUSH Design Principles to improve restrooms paid for with your tax dollars.  Join the PHLUSH group on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @PortlandPHLUSH and sign up for our newsletter.  Comment on our blog posts or submit a guest blog.  Volunteer in our campaigns and at events.


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    Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human, or PHLUSH, is an all-volunteer advocacy group based in Portland's Old Town Chinatown. We collaborate with grassroots organizations, environmental activists, planners, architects, code officials and city managers. We receive support from the Old Town Chinatown Community Association and Neighbors West-Northwest. PHLUSH is a member of the World Toilet Organization and a partner in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

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