Salman Sufi Foundation installs washrooms in Lea Market, Jheel Park
Saba Naveed, a mother of two, was out shopping with her daughters at the Light House Market in Karachi when they suddenly had to rush back home. It was an emergency: her eldest daughter needed to use the bathroom and there were none in the area.
There are few if any public toilets for Pakistani women to use. The Salman Sufi Foundation in collaboration with the Sindh government is trying to change this with shipping containers and a Rs20 fee.
The Hub Chowki bus stand in the heart of Karachi’s Lea Market now has a container with four clean washrooms, two basins, working flushes, soap and sanitiser, hand dryers and separate diaper-changing stations. The facility has a ramp for wheel-chair access as well.
A similar facility has also been installed outside Jheel Park on Tariq Road.
According to the foundation’s head, Salman Sufi, these washrooms are part of the country’s first privately managed public project. “Saaf Bath was started because of the lack of public toilets in public spaces in the country,” he said.
It is a project designed specially for women, transgendered people and people who are differently abled. “Men in the country easily defecate in the open or use washrooms inside mosques. But it’s the women who suffer the most.”
The toilets will have a solid-waste management system and a running water supply. Sanitisation workers have been employed to keep them clean. The Rs20 fee will be put to maintenance and to pay the workers.
One of the workers Junaid Jamil was ecstatic over his new job. “I was previously working as a painter but lost my job because of coronavirus and the lockdown,” he told SAMAA Digital. “With these washrooms I have a livelihood. My work timings will be from 10am to 10pm and my duties include cleaning the washroom and ensuring that women using the facility are comfortable.”
The locations for the toilets were chosen after discussion with District South Deputy Commissioner Irshad Sodhar. “Our first options were Clifton beach and Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine,” he said. “But the commissioner suggested otherwise.”
Sodhar said that Hub Chowki was a spot where over 130 buses from other districts of Sindh and Balochistan stop. “There are female passengers getting off here with children after long journeys,” he said. “These people usually go knocking on the doors of houses to use their washrooms. This facility will be a solution to a lot of their problems.”
Jheel Park was chosen because it is close to one of the most crowded shopping streets in the city, Tariq Road.
The second phase of the campaign will be launched in Lahore in the first week of October. The plan is to open more than 500 public washrooms across the country in the next two years.
The foundation has encouraged residents to take ownership of the washrooms and maintain their cleanliness. Sufi has also requested people to pitch in by dropping a donation in the boxes kept outside the washrooms.
Some people at Lea Market and Jheel Park were not aware of the project, which provides the foundation a clue that mohallah baazi could be part of the strategy to encourage ownership in neighbourhoods.
A woman passing by expressed her disapproval. “You will see,” she said. “In a few months, the Rs20 fee will increase to Rs100 and this will become another one of the government’s ways to make money from people.”
She suggested that instead of doing this, they should fund the public washrooms in the area that are run by residents. “A lot of people here have opened washrooms inside their homes and they charge Rs10 for that. Why doesn’t the government fund them? This will also help people earn money.”