This study is about the contested mobility of women in the urban realm focusing on the use of public toilets. Analyzing different spatial and social contexts, it looks for equity in the provision and design of public toilet facilities.

For the attention of: Urban policy makers, architects, urban planners and designers.

The problem: Despite interest in women’s safety, specifically in urban contexts, little attention is given to engendering women’s rights to the city and collective public spaces. The toilet design infringes upon women’s comfort and safety, discounting women’s vulnerabilities to sexual violence. Habitual toilet avoidance among women due to the lack of accessible toilets has serious health repercussions. Besides, immobilization due to the inaccessibility of public toilets severely limits women’s capacity to participate actively in city life.

What we did and why: We put forth the multiple social realities experienced by women positioned differentially across hierarchies of age, economic level, education, and class in Pune, one of India’s women-friendly cities. The city’s current status of public toilets is mapped, and various socio-spatial issues were identified. Additionally, we captured women’s voices in 15 wards in the town with semi-structured interviews to understand the complexity of accessibility in public toilets and to illustrate the concerns governing the use.

What our study adds: We addressed many contested issues concerning sanitation in Indian cities. The analysis revealed the complex perceptions and dynamics of gender systems in their spatial nexus in a city with high economic growth but low progress on gender equality. The analysis highlights how gender inequality persists, threatening women’s public presence. We argued that architects, planners, and decision-makers should proactively respond to the diverse and multiple geographies of women’s access to public toilets.

Implications for city policy and practice: The study has a concern with the architecture and planning of city infrastructure. It could help the design of public toilets realize the practical aspects and the complexity associated with the spatial experience to satisfy human needs. It calls for such facilities to be incorporated into urban policy-making practices for mainstreaming gender equity. Finally, it recommends improving urban environments by helping relevant and effective sanitation-enabling initiatives for women.

For further information:

Framework for developing a women friendly city, Pune: prepared for Pune Municipal Corporation to develop the framework for women friendly city to improve its capacity for mainstreaming gender into its planning processes. Pune-Women-Friendly-City-Pune-part2.pdf (

Open Defecation Free Pune: A vision document of Pune Municipal Corporation for improving sanitation in the city. Open Defecation Free Pune | Pune Municipal Corporation (

Full research article: Women’s contested mobility and equity in Indian urban environment: case of public toilets in Pune, Maharashtra by Vasudha A. Gokhale, Deepa Joshi and Anjali Acharya