Amsterdam: The battle for public toilets

Amsterdam: The battle for public toilets

Amsterdam: Women's fight for public toilets

In 2015, on the bustling streets of Amsterdam, a simple, everyday action was to spark a battle for gender equality in public space. Geerte Piening, an ordinary Dutch woman, made a decision that turned her world upside down – she urinated in the street. This primary need has been transformed into an act of resistance against a deeply rooted social norm.

Amsterdam : Le Combat pour des toilettes publiques (Public toilets war)

Geerte Piening's challenge and its injustice

On the cobbled streets of Amsterdam, a quiet act of rebellion has unleashed a storm of change. In 2015, Geerte Piening, a Dutch citizen, decided to defy convention by urinating in the street. But her act of protest against the obvious lack of public toilets for women soon led her into a fight for gender equality in public space.

Unfortunately, her harmless gesture was quickly punished by a €140 fine. The accusation? Simply satisfying a natural need. But Geerte decided to refuse this injustice. By contesting the fine, she drew attention to the glaring lack of public toilets for women in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Toilet Alert

The reality was shocking: the town only featured three public toilets, but 35 urinals for men. This glaring disparity in access to sanitary facilities has highlighted a systemic problem of gender equality of in public space.

Geerte forcefully expressed what many women were already feeling: “It is not possible for women to urinate in a decent, hygienic and dignified way in a public urinal designed for men”. Her rallying cry resonated throughout the city, inspiring women from all walks of life to stand up and claim their fundamental rights. Among those joining her was Amsterdam city councillor Ilana Rooderker. Together, they joined forces to draft a bill demanding equal access to public toilets for all citizens.

The beginning of a victory for accessibility

Under the growing pressure from the community, the city was forced to take action. Although modest, these changes marked the start of a new era of inclusion and accessibility. Mobile toilets were installed in parks and green spaces during the months of summer, offering a welcome relief to residents and visitors alike. Police stations and fire departments have also given access to their sanitary facilities.

But the fight didn’t stop there. Nine years later, in April 2024, the town hall announced a 4 million euros investment to increase the number of public toilets accessible to people with reduced mobility by October. It’s a victory for Geerte, Ilana and all those involved in this fight for equality.

Beyond Amsterdam: a European issue

However, the story goes beyond the borders of Amsterdam. It’s a reminder that the gender equality challenges women face in the public space are universal, and require collective action. Cities across Europe, Paris included, aknowledge the importance of reforming public spaces to ensure the safety and comfort of all their citizens.

Ultimately, the story of Geerte Piening and her fight for decent public toilets is a lesson in hope and resilience. It’s a reminder that even the smallest gestures of resistance can trigger changes that transcend borders and generations.

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Every year, November 19th is World Toilet Day. After all, access to toilets is a public health issue throughout the world, and one that unfortunately receives little attention from the authorities.

The aim of this special day is to raise awareness by communicating alarming figures… According to UN surveys, over 50% of the world’s population lives without access to safe sanitation. Worse still, 2 million children die every year from illnesses caused by sanitation-related problems, according to the figures of AFA Asso. Today, more than 673 million people are forced to relieve themselves outdoors.

In India, the government launched a nationwide campaign in 2014 called “Swachh Bharat”, otherwise known as “Clean India”. Women in the eastern Jharkhand region of the country have set themselves the challenge of providing for one of their most natural needs: building real toilets at the bottom of their own garden. Before that, they had to go to forests to relieve themselves at night, because it’s a taboo subject. They were then faced with risks such as being bitten by insects or sexually assaulted.

If the project to install toilets on people’s properties has recently become a reality in India, in the land of the rising sun, projects to improve the hygiene and cleanliness of public sanitary facilities have always been a major challenge. One of the latest inventions is a toilet with transparent walls. The concept may sound intriguing, but in reality it’s all about preserving the privacy of users : when a user wants to go to the toilet and locks the door, the cabin – translucent at first glance – becomes opaque.

Sanitation issues vary from country to country, but unfortunately access to toilets worldwide remains a major problem. In a report published by the UN on World Toilet Day, it is noted that ” at the current rate of progress, sanitation for all will not be a reality before the twenty-second century”!