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from the January 19, 2006 edition
'Potty parity' aims to remedy long lines
More states and cities are passing laws requiring higher ratios of women's to men's toilets in new construction projects.
By Matt Bradley | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
The battleground for women's rights is expanding from the boardroom to the bathroom, and a serious legislative initiative nicknamed "potty parity" is giving new meaning to the term "separate but equal."
The new push, which is quietly making its way into construction standards around the world, says restrooms should provide two to three times as many "outlets" for women as for men. In that sense, "potty parity" bills offer women more than parity: It may finally trim the long lines for women's rooms at theaters, stadiums, and highway rest stops.
"It's a good thing," says Kari Roberts of Reading, Mass., a shopper at the Prudential Center Mall in Boston. She says the wait time for restrooms "needs to be the same" for both men and women.
"There's always this conversation, this conspiracy" among women waiting in line for the bathroom, she says. "Women are always asking: 'Is there anyone in the men's room? Can we go in there and take it over?'"
When it came to restrooms, architects (and lawyers) used to think in terms of square footage rather than number of outlets - or physiology. But studies show that because women have different needs, on average they spend twice as much time in the bathroom as men, causing longer lines.
In her 1988 graduate thesis, Sandra Rawls of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute timed how long it took hundreds of men and women to answer nature's call. Her observations of the time disparity between the sexes explains the long lines for women.
While Ms. Roberts is not a lawyer, the question of bathroom equality is a legal no-brainer to her. Sure, it may seem fair to give men and women equal-size bathrooms, but the result will always be longer lines for women - especially when you factor in stockings, small children, and feminine health issues.
Perhaps surprisingly, the voice behind many recent legal initiatives on this issue in the United States is decidedly masculine. John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the self-anointed "father of potty parity," estimates that about a dozen states and local jurisdictions across the country have passed laws requiring higher ratios of women's to men's toilets in new construction projects. During the previous month, legislatures in such far-flung locales as Hong Kong and Singapore have also signed on to versions of potty parity.
"I'm pushing the idea of filing federal complaints, in other words, making a federal case out of potty parity," Professor Banzhaf says. He argues that to ignore potty parity "constitutes a form of sex discrimination ... and violates the constitutional tenet of equal protection."
Banzhaf and his law student acolytes have seen a great deal of success and remarkably little resistance since they began working on the issue in the early 1990s. He and his team have had plenty of practice in other legal arenas: Banzhaf has worked on major cases against tobacco firms and fast-food restaurants, even going so far as to throw the book at "discriminatory" nightclubs that provide free drinks to women on ladies' nights.
The Women's Restroom Equity Bill, unanimously approved by the New York City Council last May, requires public facilities to uphold a 2-to-1 ratio of women's to men's toilets. The measure, which replaced a 1984 law requiring a 1-to-1 ratio, applies to all new public structures as well as renovations costing more than 50 percent of the value of the building.
"It would have only been a woman who would have embraced this issue, because men don't suffer those same types of struggles around this," says Councilwoman Yvette Clarke (D) of Brooklyn, chief sponsor of the legislation. "There's a conditioning that happens to young women and children because people just accept [waiting in line for the bathroom] as just the way it is."
Honolulu approved a similar measure Dec. 7, based on model legislation provided by the International Codes Council - still further evidence of the idea's widespread reach.
"It's one of those things that's a good idea," says Honolulu city councilman Charles Djou (R), who drafted and spearheaded the initiative for Hawaii's capital. "It's not going to solve our crime or homelessness problems, but it's a small, simple idea that's going to improve quality of life for people."
Thanks to the World Toilet Organization in Singapore, which acts as "a global voice on the issue of toilets," the issue is likely to gain even more attention as an agenda item in Moscow at the World Toilet Summit in September.
"It's long overdue," says Jack Sim, the organization's founder. "It can't get worse than what's already happening. It can only get better."
Making Way for Empresses
TOKYO, Jan 19 (IPS) - Chieko Akaishi, a feminist, has mixed feelings about moves to amend the imperial succession law to allow princesses to ascend Japan's revered Chrysanthemum Throne.
''A female succession to lead Japan's imperial family is exciting because it signals a dramatic breakthrough in the oldest of Japan's traditions. At the same time, it is hard to rejoice too much because, after all, the Japanese monarchy symbolises a feudal system that upholds a top-down system and not a modern democracy,'' says Akaishi.
Indeed, the Japanese imperial family, promoted as the oldest in the world, is strictly controlled by the imperial Agency that orchestrates the daily schedules, appearance in public, speeches and finances of members.
Feminists believe that even with a female on the throne there will be no real change given that the monarchy is bound by elaborate rituals and wields no real political power.
Still, according to Mitsuko Yamaguchi, head of the Yamaguchi Memorial Association, a leading women's rights organization, the ascendancy of a female would break the sacred male hierarchy custom that has been upheld for more than 2000 years, and is thus a path breaking symbol of change.
''There is no doubt the appearance of a female empress will bring hope to modern Japanese women who are now facing inequality in the work place and society,'' she said.
What has forced the government to consider a change in the imperial succession law is the circumstance of the royal family not having produced a male heir in over four decades.
Debate over a suitable amendment intensified after crown princess Masako gave birth to Aiko, her first and only child, after nearly eight years of marriage to the crown prince.
An advisory panel, appointed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in a final report released last month, recommended that the first-born child of an emperor, irrespective of gender, should be made the imperial heir.
The proposal will be tabled as a bill before the Diet (parliament) when sessions begin later this month.
Experts contend the bill, if passed, will make history in Japan where only eight females monarchs have ascended the throne, and then they have been either widows or single and stepped down as soon as a male heir was ready.
Importantly, none of the female monarchs had children who assumed the throne and posed no threat to the principle of male succession.
The proposed change, according to history experts, is revolutionary. Prof. Hiroshi Takahashi at Shizuoka University explains that there is no alternative now but to accept princesses as heirs to the imperial line. ''By making a law that allows the first-born to lead, there is a landmark change in Japanese history.''
Indeed, the step has gripped public attention with the proposed bill winning support from more than 70 percent support from people polled in surveys.
The huge public support has been attributed to popular sympathy for princess Aiko, the charming 4-year-old future empress who is the only daughter of crown prince Naruhito and his commoner wife, Masako.
''There is huge sympathy, especially among women, for princess Aiko who was born after her mother battled infertility and intense pressure to produce a son that later led her to fall into a severe depression. Naturally, they support female ascendancy as a means of expressing their support for princess Masako and her husband,'' says Akaishi.
The rallying public support has strengthened the hand of proponents of female emperors but also stirred opposition among conservatives who see male heirs as the proper way to protect Japan's ancient imperial system.
Opponents include the cousin of the emperor, prince Tomohito, who publicly denounced the move in an essay and suggested that other male members of the extended imperial family could be adopted by the reigning Emperor to qualify as an heir.
A key question for conservatives is the possibility of a commoner becoming the husband of the future empress and posing a threat to the purity of the bloodline of the royal family that dates back to the legendary Jinmu, believed to be a descendant of the sun goddess.
Prince Tomohito has been quoted in the Japanese media as expressing concern about the breaking of the male lineage and saying that ''debate could reach a point where people say there is no need for an emperor''.
Such a step would be sacrilege for powerful conservative politicians and other groups who trace the uniqueness of their country to the long unbroken succession of the male imperial bloodline.
Takahashi explains that the entry into the royal household of two highly popular commoners, empress Michiko and princess Masako, is not considered a threat to this carefully nurtured notion, because they are not male.
Change, says Yamaguchi, must come as Japanese society, after the end of World War II, has been steadily modernising for 60 years now and the emperor is no longer seen as a living god.
There are other changes that people would like to see. For example, to the law that says princesses must turn into commoners, if they marry outside royalty and forever leave the palace.
Indeed, the stripping of the royal title of Princess Nori, the youngest daughter of the emperor, after she married a commoner in November, is now debated, with some arguing that she should be allowed to visit the palace.
''Change, however slow, is coming. After all, it is important to remember that we are dealing with a monarchy that is deeply rooted in the psyche of the Japanese people,'' she says. (END/2006)
Attitudes, and the law, keep India's gays quiet
THURSDAY, JANUARY 19, 2006 International Herald Tribune
NEW DELHI What happened on Jan. 3 in the state capital of Lucknow is unclear. The police account and the version offered by the lawyers of the accused differ on most points, but the outcome was that four men were arrested and imprisoned, accused of operating an online "gay racket" and engaging in "unnatural sex."
There are some peculiar contradictions in the police narrative of events.
Officially, officers claim they arrested the men in a park, but one involved in the arrest later told local journalists that the police had "laid a trap" for one of the accused and detained him together with three others at a private address in the city.
Adding to the confusion, Human Rights Watch, the New York-based watchdog, said it received reports suggesting that the police had posed as gay men on a gay Web site, "entrapped one man, then forced him to call others and arrange a meeting where they were arrested."
Whatever the precise details, the decision to imprison the men for 14 days before granting them bail has given new impetus to a campaign for the repeal of India's laws banning gay sex.
The police officers probably did not expect the arrests to prove particularly controversial. To their surprise, the incident triggered an international outcry. In a letter to the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, Human Rights Watch argued that the government's decision to "cling to the criminalization of homosexual conduct" prevented people from coming forward for HIV/AIDS testing, information and services.
Campaigners for the law's repeal argue that it is not simply a question of AIDS prevention, but a matter of basic human rights. Section 377 of India's criminal code is, they say, an anachronistic anomaly that originates in 19th-century British colonial law.
Under the statute, gay sex is bracketed with sex with animals and pedophilia and classed as an "unnatural" offense, punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment.
Few people are prosecuted under the law, but its continued presence on the statute books has meant that gay men, as well as organizations promoting AIDS awareness among gay communities in India, remain vulnerable to police harassment.
The Lucknow police force has been unusually proactive in its attempts to enforce the law. In 2001, the police raided the offices of two organizations working on AIDS prevention and arrested staff members, accusing them of promoting homosexuality. The police seized the HIV-AIDS education material being distributed by the organizations on the grounds that it was "obscene."
Arif Zafar, from the Naz Foundation International - an HIV/AIDS prevention organization - was imprisoned for 47 days, as were three colleagues.
"The police in Lucknow seem to have their own moral agenda," Zafar said. "They said we should not be distributing condoms to men because it was against the Indian culture. They said we were promoting unnatural behavior in order to make money out of foreign donors."
So far, the officers involved in this month's arrest appear quite unabashed by the furor they have unleashed.
"If laws were made against homosexuality in India, it must have been done keeping in view the Indian social ethos and moral values," Ashutosh Pandey, Lucknow's senior superintendent of police, told the Indo-Asian News Service.
Anil Kumar Yadav, the officer in charge of the police station where the charges were filed, declared: "It seems as if all the gays of the world have united against us just because we picked up the boys. Homosexuality is neither legally nor socially recognized in our culture."
The argument that Indian society was not ready for a legalization of homosexuality was echoed in a Ministry of Home Affairs response to a petition to have the law changed.
Dismissing the petition in December, the ministry pointed out that homosexuality is illegal in most countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa and declared: "Public opinion and the current societal context in India does not favor the deletion of the said offense from the status book."
The idea that public opinion should be used as a moral barometer guiding legislation has irritated campaigners against the law.
Rahul Singh, another worker with the Naz Foundation, said: "Public opinion is in favor of sati - widows immolating themselves - but the government legislated against that. The law has to come first and public opinion will follow."
But the question of whether society was ready to accept homosexuality is also debated within India's gay community. In urban areas, life has gotten much easier for gay men.
"There are help lines, support groups, access to other gay men," said Gautam Bhan, an activist with Voices Against 377, a movement campaigning for repeal of the law. "The change has been extraordinary for urban-based, middle- and upper-class men. But it is only possible to live an 'out' life in privileged circles. Beyond those groups, it is harder."
In smaller cities like Lucknow, attitudes change very slowly.
"Homophobia in India is very different to what it is in the West, where it combines religious disapproval and personal disgust," Bhan said. "Here people aren't surprised by the existence of same-sex attraction, which is present in the Hindu epics and carved in stone in the temples of Khajuraho.
"But India is a patriarchal society which values marriage, and people are afraid of men who reject that path."
The petition is due to be heard by the Indian Supreme Court in February. Activists harbor little optimism that there will be a swift rethinking of the law.
On the scale of European and U.S. gay pride marches, the public response to the Lucknow incident has been muted. In Delhi, about two dozen activists gathered last week to protest the arrests.
Campaigners point out that it is still hard to persuade people to protest openly - partly because of the law. "The response this time was much greater than ever before, but the existence of the law still constrains us," Bhan said.
"Everything we do can be construed as aiding and abetting a criminal offense."