Shang­hai des­per­ately needs more chil­dren-friendly toi­lets

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Zhou Ping

It was re­cently re­ported that a mother at a Min­hang district shop­ping mall lost her 3-year-old son af­ter duck­ing into a women-only toi­let. When she came back out, the boy was gone. Mall se­cu­rity im­me­di­ately locked down the en­tire venue and ex­am­ined sur­veil­lance video to help track down the tod­dler, which re­vealed that he had left the mall on his own, then bor­rowed a stranger’s mo­bile to call his grand­mother to come pick him up. All this oc­curred in the brief time it took the mother to re­lieve her­self.

Me­dia didn’t dis­close if the mother said why she dared let her lit­tle boy out of her sight, but my guess as a fel­low mom is that there were no uni­sex fa­cil­i­ties avail­able to take her son in with her, so she took the chance to leave him unat­tended. By 2016, Shang­hai had only 215 uni­sex (also known as “ac­ces­si­ble”) pub­lic toi­lets, which con­sid­er­ing the city’s large ge­og­ra­phy and dense pop­u­la­tion, is way too few.

I my­self have en­coun­tered sim­i­lar dilem­mas when go­ing out with my 5-year-old son. When I need to use a pub­lic women’s toi­let, I must make him stand out­side the door­way, then con­stantly call out his name as I am pee­ing to make sure he is still there. I must also send him into a men’s bath­room alone while I wait out in front.

Once, at a pub­lic hospi­tal, he had to go pee, but the men’s uri­nals were too high for him. I was forced to ask a stranger walk­ing in to lift my son up and help him, which he kindly agreed to but left all par­ties in­volved feel­ing un­com­fort­able.

Hav­ing re­cently given birth to my sec­ond child, I’m also quickly re­al­iz­ing that this city lacks breast­feed­ing/di­a­per-chang­ing sta­tions. The few that ex­ist in some lo­cal malls and parks are so un­san­i­tary that I dare not place my in­fant down on the chang­ing ta­ble. I’m not alone in this com­plaint, with count­less other moth­ers ex­press­ing on so­cial me­dia their dis­ap­point­ment with “mother-un­friendly” Shang­hai.

This city has achieved un­prece­dented eco­nomic suc­cess and mas­sive mod­ern­iza­tion over the past decade, now ri­val­ing other global metropoli­tan cities such as New York and Lon­don. But from the per­spec­tive of an or­di­nary, work­ing­class res­i­dent, Shang­hai still has a lot of work to do be­fore it can catch up with its in­ter­na­tional coun­ter­parts. It’s as if our lo­cal lead­ers for­got that the city is home to a large pop­u­la­tion of blue-col­lar cit­i­zens who rely on pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties.

If Shang­hai re­ally hopes to em­u­late for­eign cities like Paris and Tokyo – where many of my Chi­nese friends have brought along their chil­dren to travel and re­port an abun­dance of clean, well-equipped mother-and-child-friendly toi­lets – then our lead­ers should try al­lo­cat­ing more funds for on-the-ground in­fra­struc­ture that fam­i­lies liv­ing here de­pend on.

To Shang­hai’s credit, it has taken the first steps to­ward pro­vid­ing more uni­sex fa­cil­i­ties. In 2013, Chen Yi­jun, a deputy di­rec­tor with the City Ap­pear­ance and En­vi­ron­ment Qual­ity Mon­i­tor­ing Cen­ter, told the Ori­en­tal Morn­ing Post that uni­sex toi­lets would even­tu­ally make up 25 to 30 per­cent of all pub­lic toi­lets in down­town Shang­hai. In Novem­ber Shang­hai made an even bolder ex­per­i­ment with its first-ever “mixed gen­der” toi­let fa­cil­ity, which al­lows men and women in to­gether at the ex­act same time.

Re­cent re­ports de­clared the mixed-gen­der trial “a fail­ure” due to not re­ceiv­ing enough users, which can be at­trib­uted to the toi­let’s re­mote lo­ca­tion and low pub­lic aware­ness. Thus, the city an­nounced that it has can­celed plans to in­stall any ad­di­tional such toi­lets in the near fu­ture.

This is ter­ri­ble tim­ing and ter­ri­bly in­con­sis­tent with the new two-child pol­icy that the cen­tral gov­ern­ment has been pro­mot­ing since go­ing into ef­fect last year. In­stead of can­cel­ing fam­ily-friendly fa­cil­i­ties, lo­cal gov­ern­ment should be slot­ting an even larger por­tion of its bud­gets to mak­ing life eas­ier for any­one rais­ing a child here. The first step, then, is to ac­com­mo­date one of the most ba­sic func­tions of hu­man be­ings – go­ing to the bath­room.

The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the au­thor’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

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