Last December, I discovered how easily even women managers can ignore the most basic needs of female workers.
This revelation came to light at a seminar about ‘Women in the Environmental Profession’ run by the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ) in Canberra.
After much discussion about important topics like the gender pay gap, it was my turn to speak.
Being fresh back from a trip to India, my mind was still focused on sanitation and I mentioned some of the problems that women face when they don’t have access to clean, private, safe toilets.
This sparked a lively conversation about female rangers and environmental professionals doing ecological or contaminated site assessments and other field work.
It soon became obvious that access to toilets isn’t just a challenge for women in developing countries. I’ve since talked to landscapers who have faced similar problems when construction work has been completed and the portable toilets are removed from site.
(Surely most women have experienced that feeling of being desperate to go to the loo but you’re in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by men, and there aren’t even any substantial bushes around for miles? I know I have and I hate the idea that I’ve placed staff in that position.)
To my surprise, another presenter also raised the issue of toilets and fieldwork. She explained to the audience that it isn’t just a matter of privacy and comfort.
In her experience, women (and presumably some men) often drink less fluid so they don’t need to urinate as frequently, regardless of the weather conditions and exertion level.
As a result, these women risk becoming seriously dehydrated — which isn’t good for either their productivity or safety (much less their health if they suffer from heatstroke or contract a urinary tract infection).
She recommended education for students so they are empowered to advocate for themselves in the workplace and consideration of toilet requirements in field work plans.
Sometimes the solution is as simple as negotiating with local landowners to use their facilities or factoring in enough time to drive into town during scheduled breaks.
But how many organisations would be willing to add in extra time and fuel to drive to the closest public facilities? Or would consider including a porta-loo in the budget?
How many staff know about useful tools such as female urination devices (FUDs) and menstrual cups? And are any organisations willing to consider requests to purchase such items under the banner of Personal Protective Equipment for female staff working in places without easy access to toilets?