On average, I pee about 14 times a day. Ever since I could remember, I’ve been an excessive pisser. Is it because I chug too much coffee, water and Coke zero? Probably. Could it secretly be a health problem that will bring me difficulties later in life? Perhaps. Could I be a scientific anomaly that has somehow defied all odds and been pregnant for 21 years? Probably not, but I’m not prepared to rule it out. Anyway, I think you get the picture, I pee a lot, but this article is not about my peeing problems but rather a different issue that does have an effect on my bladder. The lack of free public bathrooms available for women, homeless people, and disabled people in Amsterdam.
To paint you a quick picture of this problem let me take you through something that happens to me fairly often. I go on walks with my father about twice a week. These walks usually last an hour or two and consist of pleasant conversation and the picturesque beauty of the various neverending canals and the fairytale architecture of Amsterdam, whose buildings in their tight frame expand beyond reason. Because of the length of these walks I often feel the creeping anxiety of my bladder steadily filling. I usually buckle down and hold it, trying to ignore the much too familiar and annoying sensation of needing to use the toilet. Now, as a grown woman, I don’t mind holding my pee in for the rest of the walk, and I often do because there are hardly ever bathrooms around and I wouldn’t want to pay .70$ just to relieve myself. The reason I mention these walks with my father is because my father also suffers from the inconvenience of constantly having to pee. The glaring difference is that the city of Amsterdam is dotted with free urinals for men. These green, polka dotted, foul smelling structures adorn several canals and streets for men to use freely. The frustration I feel when I see my father use the bathroom for free is enraging. I think it is great for these urinals to exist, god knows there are enough drunk men in Amsterdam to go around so it is nice to have a way for them to not piss all over the streets. What I fail to understand is how such a progressive city can provide bathrooms for men while having no alternative for women. Why is it that women have to pay a euro or two for a basic human right? It is ridiculous that a city gets to decide that men can whip their dicks out and pee for free while others have to pay.
I would like to take a moment to climb out of my own privilege. I am extremely lucky that I get to go home to a bathroom, or if I really have to go I can always shell out the money. I am complaining from the perspective of a person with these privileges that I am eternally grateful for. The people who deserve to be even more enraged than me at these casual violations of human rights are both homeless people and disabled people with diseases such as ibs or other intestinal issues. Homeless people should not have to pay every time they have to go number two and people with IBS should be able to know that they can walk into a public bathroom and not be punished by having to pay a fee for an affliction they do not control. Another specific group harmed by lack of public bathrooms are homeless women who are menstruating. Rimed.org published a medical journal stating “Homeless women confront the daunting challenge of securing materials to absorb blood and finding privacy to change and dispose of used sanitary products.” It is simply inhumane that a person who is already dealing with the struggle of not having shelter should have to deal with the constant worry of not being able to have the proper facilities to change their menstrual products. This is only one example of the way homeless people are stripped of their humanity and are treated horrendously by society.
While writing this article I looked through the public toilet map on the city of Amsterdam’s official website. According to this map there are about 51 toilets specifically for men while there are approximately 31 gender neutral bathrooms of which only 26 are free. The majority of the free toilets being very conveniently placed in public parks in the outskirts of Amsterdam, away from the areas with the highest traffic such as the Centrum, De Pijp, and Oud West. How can a city with a population of almost one million and a never-ending influx of tourists only have 26 free bathrooms that are available for all people. It is blatantly disrespectful for a city to go out of its way to make 51 goddamn bathrooms for able bodied men while snubbing the rest of the population. Some might argue that the reason that a city should not have many public bathrooms is because some people might “take advantage” and do drugs there. All I can say to that idiotic argument is that if your life is at a low enough place that doing drugs in a public restroom is a necessity then who are others to judge someone in such a state of desperation.
While researching for this article I also discovered that this problem is much bigger than I thought. There are countless articles written on the subject of the sheer lack of public bathrooms in the Netherlands and the unfair urinals scattered about. An article on NOS goes into detail about how the lack of public bathrooms has affected a multitude of people. According to this article in the Netherlands 1 in 20 people chose to stay home because of the lack of toilets available to them:
“According to Van Koppen, a total of 850,000 people cannot fully participate in society due to continence problems. ‘Our great wish is that in areas where many people come, such as shopping streets, there is a public toilet every 500 meters. People must be able to find a toilet within five minutes, otherwise they will be too late.’”
How can a country sit back and let people who are already suffering stay in the shadows because they are too lazy to find a solution to this problem? It seems that if you are not a healthy man in the Netherlands your bathroom needs don’t really matter.
Apparently activism for instating more free public restrooms for women and for disabled people is quite alive with protests for the cause having been attempted in the past and even more recently DutchNews.nl reported: “During the corona lockdown, a group called the ‘toilet alliance’ has lobbied for more facilities to reopen across the country.” It is almost mystifying that an issue so simple has to be debated, protested, and fought for with so much vigor. Of course, like most human rights issues that have to be thoroughly debated, the main culprit is money. NL Times reported:
“According to the Court of Audit, the main cause behind the lack of public toilets is their costs. Amsterdam will need to build 25 to 30 additional public toilets in order to meet the city council’s standard. That will cost approximately 4 million euros, and another 300 thousand euros per year for management costs.”
Now, I may not be an expert in city budgeting or toilet politics, but what I do know is that people are angry and have been angry about this for decades. Dutchnews.nl stated:
“Despite acknowledging the problem for the last 100 years, Amsterdam has not sufficiently increased facilities – especially for women and people with disabilities, according to the ‘open toilets access’ report published this week.”
This problem is never going to go away because people are never going to have to stop peeing. I mean, unless we evolve into frog creatures that pee gas. But until that happens peeing will always be a reality, and it should not have to be stressful for people to go outside just because they don’t know if a toilet will be available to them. I for one propose that hundreds of women, homeless people, and disabled people gather in Dam Square, pull down their panties, boxers, briefs or if you like going commando, pants and simultaneously piss. Piss away as an act of standing up to oppression, piss away the frustrations of your human rights being violated for the sake of saving money, and lastly piss away the vexation you feel that able bodied men can pee anywhere they like just because the city seems to only have their needs in mind.