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Public toilets – A great place to assess good governance, democracy

Photograph: weehingthong.wordpress.com

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Lau Shu Shi describes the humiliating experience she endured when using a public restroom in Ipoh – and wonders who was responsible for the pathetic conditions.

Photograph: weehingthong.wordpress.com
Photograph: weehingthong.wordpress.com

This is so unbearable!

I still cannot get rid of the feeling of being humiliated by … a toilet? I am cursing whoever or whatever unit that was responsible for the maintenance of the public toilet at the Ipoh bus station as I stand half naked, holding my own long pants, which are immersed in my own menstrual blood.

Who designed such facilities? Who approved the building plans?

Is the amount to be allocated for the building of basic necessity infrastructures such as public toilets backed up by available statistics and/or research on expected user needs? How is the allocation for maintenance arrived at?

I admit I am furious and need to hold someone responsible for the situation I am in. I refuse to place that burden on myself! Yes, this is my body which has the power of reproduction and, according to the infamous MP Bung Mokhtar, this phenomena is called bocor.

In this modern era, I am quite sure most people understand the natural biological function of menstruation and that it is a gift.

But my experiences as a girl told me otherwise.

I was told that I was dirty because of menstruation.

I was told I became very emotional because of menstruation.

I was told, because of menstruation, I would not be able to make wise decisions and therefore cannot be a good leader.

I was told, because of menstruation, I was better suited to be a care giver, a teacher or a nurse.

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I was told I should do domestic work and learn to take care of men who work so hard outside to put bread on the table.

Today, I am a Woman and I earn my own living.

Opportunities are taken away from me just because blood flows in between my legs. People form opinions and sum me up without even knowing me personally.

My opinion does not matter in the public sphere simply because I bleed every month? How can we achieve civilisation if only half of the population’s opinion is taken into account? To me, there can be no democracy if the gender issue is not part of the main agenda for debate, dialogue and discourse.

Back to the tiny space in the Ipoh bus station. I had changed my sanitary pad one and half hours ago, and now I am trembling in the toilet. I am not too sure if this is because I have lost too much blood or because it is cold.

I know that I should go to a hospital or a clinic because of my condition, but I am stuck in a toilet whose walls and ceiling are laden with spider webs. And there is not a single hook available to hang my panties!

I have bad cramps but I still need to go to work. My work requires me to travel and the only affordable means available to me is public transport.

In such a situation, I have to rely on the available public toilet, which is in such a pathetic state. I am indeed fortunate that I had brought an extra change of clothes with me. What about the plight of those who do not have a change? What are they expected to do? I dread to think of the consequences.

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It is common to see long queues outside women’s rest rooms while the male toilets are almost empty. Sheryl Sandberg, the CCO of Facebook and author of the book called Lean In, recalled how she once had a meeting in an office which did not have any rest rooms for women. It is disheartening to note that as women we are not even welcome in some spaces just because we have a uterus.

There are a lot of things women have to do in toilet: we not only pee, we also have to take care of kids who need to pee; we change our own sanitary pads; we change diapers for babies, and sometime we vomit when we are pregnant or when we have too much alcohol or for whatever reason. And of course, a lot of the time, we have to breastfeed our next generation in the rest rooms. Most Malaysians I am sure have not had the experience of having a meal in a toilet.

Is there even a proper channel for me to lodge a complaint? I pay my taxes every year. Remember, 50 per cent of Malaysians have a uterus. Take note too that half of the human race walk around wearing sanitary pads or anything else they use in between their legs to absorb the blood when they are menstruating.

This government has failed me in almost all the issues I care about: elections, the environment, public transport, the education system, and affordable health care. Leave aside the major issues; they cannot even provide piped and clean water in a public toilet. What a letdown!

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A note to decision makers: please remember, I am a voter and I will vote for the candidate who will provide me space to change my sanitary pad with dignity.

Lau-Shu-ShiLau Shu Shi believes a woman’s narrative will be able to change the world – but only if more women are willing to share their precious experiences.

Shu Shi attended the Aliran Young Writers Workshop on Good Governance and Democracy, supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, a stint she relished. “English is not my first language and, knowing my weaknesses, I tend not to write in English.”

“But at the Aliran workshop, the environment was so friendly and relaxed. I was able to produce a piece and really appreciated the facilitators and Aliran members who gave very kind remarks and encouragement and patiently edited my language.

“It is a programme that I will definitely join in future or at least introduce to others.”

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