With many public facilities closed due to covid, women have been forced to adopt the squat, drop and loo-roll in any way they can. Men have less trouble embracing the great outdoors of course but there’s still the question of lockdown legality, especially when you find yourself caught short in built up areas.
Mastering the squat
Normally the preserve of country rambles, outdoor peeing has become the bane of women across locked-down cities. For country dwellers, a public loo is a nearby hedgerow. Certainly, there’s more romance to peeing with a great, gathering view of an empty hilltop than crouching toad-like behind a shrub in a city park.
Culturally and historically, women’s toileting has been tidied out of the way as something shameful. It’s time we destigmatised the unseated poise, embraced more fully by our friends on the continent (one Princesse D’Harcourt used to relieve herself in the Versailles gardens after heavy banquets). As festival sheewees went out of fashion around 2012, the main technique, the lockdown squat-down, ultimately requires balance and core strength. Some of us have been joining Joe Wicks’ morning PE class to hone our haunches in preparation.
Is it legal?
The technical difficulties of the squat can unfairly put women at greater risk being prosecuted under the 1986 Public Order Act, if caught urinating in public. Men are able to be more discreet – a pipette can be quickly tucked into a trouser fold. Women do not have that option, having to expose a full length of flank and our bottoms. From a legal perspective, how you pee outdoors is important – with discretion and not ‘alarming members of the public’ key to navigating the law.
In May, some parks put up signs saying, ‘Go home if you need to go,’ after grisly reports of smell and waste. Understandably, as Tower Hamlets council said, ‘there are significant health risks associated with reopening public toilets’ as it would be difficult to maintain hygiene and social distancing. But scant information was given online about alternatives, producing instead some creative results. ‘I now pack a length of cloth when going out,’ said a friend who repurposes her picnic blanket into a pop-up beach-style lavatory.
The clean up
Those of us who are less prepared are faced with the wipe or shake dilemma. In the park last weekend I had a choice of wheat (ineffective), thistle (I didn’t dare), or a slow air-dry which lasted long enough for me to pass as a tasteful semi-nude statue.
I spoke to several pregnant women for whom the lockdown squat-down is less of an option: one said that she is bound by a 10-20 minute radius of her house, so ‘strolling through estates and busy roads is the most I can hope for.’ Another’s partner had to drive to pick her up when she couldn’t find any facilities, despite googling extensively: all exasperating after months of shielding at home. More public loos are re-opening today (details below), and the women I spoke to look forward to being able to get out more to improve their mental health.
Sadly, another mitigating factor is not one that stems from embarrassment, but rather from a worrying spike in reports of sexual harassment since lockdown began. With public spaces more deserted, behaviour has been less accountable. A friend said that after an incident while out exercising, she now takes her male flatmate to shield her when wild peeing. This loss of independence is just another of covid’s many indignities for women.
In Italy and the southern Med, public loos are often holes in the ground. Squatting is considered healthier for the gut, and more hygienic than sharing seats on the throne-style loo. These toilets are also easier to maintain. Going forward, could these squat toilets provide a solution to the pandemic’s public loo crisis? I asked local councils if they had considered it. Some said it was an interesting idea, but most foresaw more staff on hand with PPE, ‘enhanced regular cleaning, clear signage to support social distancing, hand washing and sanitising.’
For such a mundane service, the impact on women’s everyday life has been significant. Women on their periods, with UTIs, bladder complications, with disabilities, pregnant, trans, elderly – all women really. Opening up more facilities will be a welcome change for many and draw attention to the dwindling of public toilet provision in general. The alternatives are bleak: not going out at all, or mastering the squat. That, and the inevitable damp trouser leg.
Where to find loos in London
Check local council websites, and London Homeless Info for the latest policy for your postcode.
Tower Hamlets council says public loos will open in Victoria park from June 18th.
In the eight Royal Parks, one toilet block per park will be open by lunchtime on June 18th.
The women’s toilets in Westminster subway are open.
Public toilets are open at Leicester Square.
In Kings Cross, the toilets at St Pancras station are open, and at Richmond station
Some Prets are now open, with toilet facilities. pret.co.uk/en-gb/find-a-pret-reopening
In Islington, there are five automated toilets open across the borough (see open ones on google maps), as well as a staffed one on Chapel Market
Wandsworth council published on its website: Two of the three public toilets in Battersea Park have reopened, with staff on hand two ensure social distancing. Public toilets in other parks remain closed for the time being.
Sainsbury’s with toilets email@example.com,-0.1277583/3/all/Toilets
What the councils say:
A Royal Parks spokesperson said: ‘Staff and public safety is of paramount importance. We are initially opening a limited number of toilets across all our parks in order to ensure we implement the safety measures required to protect our visitors’ safety and to provide a safe working environment for our attendants. Please check our website for the locations.’
Hackney Council have said the following: ‘Public toilets in Hackney are open and have been from 12 p.m. – 9 p.m. each day. Since the start of lockdown, we have issued 133 fines at London Fields for littering and urination – in excess of 90% were for urination. Tickets for urination offences issued elsewhere around the borough bring that total to 303, with ca. 90% for urination.’