November 28, 2019 / 6:02 PM / 10 days ago

Stand in line, women: no 'potty parity' in Hong Kong

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hong Kong said on Thursday it had failed to meet its own pledge of “potty parity”, a policy aimed at ending an imbalance witnessed the world over: the long queue for the women’s loo.

Long lines routinely form outside female bathrooms while men nip in and out, igniting debates over gender equality, inclusive urban planning and the impact on work and health.

An official audit released on Wednesday found that Hong Kong authorities had failed to meet their own guidelines, in place since 2004, to provide two female toilets for every one for men.

More than half the city’s public toilet sites failed to meet the ratio, the Audit Commission said in its latest report.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, which oversees the facilities, said it would build more toilets.

In an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, it vowed to “take measures to meet the male-to-female toilet compartment ratio... as far as practicable”.

How planners use space is key to resolving the disparity.

Researchers say women take longer than men on average as they use toilets rather than urinals.

But architects tend to give men equal floor space and more facilities because urinals are smaller than stalls, according to the British Toilets Association, a non-profit group.

A push for more gender-neutral toilets for sexual minority groups has also angered feminists who say their comfort and safety are at risk - and men are still left with a better deal.

The World Toilet Organisation, which campaigns for better toilets and sanitation, said unequal access to bathrooms could cost billions of dollars a year in lost productivity.

“It’s also bad for health so you might have an additional healthcare bill,” the campaign group’s founder Jack Sim said by phone from Singapore.

In 2015, Hong Kong’s then development minister vowed to tackle the “potty parity” problem after feeling the pain.

“Even for men, they might sometimes have to wait for their other halves to use the toilets. That kind of waiting feeling, I can feel it too,” Paul Chan, who is now finance chief, wrote at the time.

Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org

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