BEIJING -- Chairman Mao famously said “women hold up half the sky,” but in today’s China they are standing twice as long in restroom lines.
It’s a universal problem: women waiting anxiously inside and outside public bathrooms while men can “finish the business” much more quickly. Women spend much more time in bathrooms than men, but they don’t necessarily enjoy the proportional number of facilities. The problem is particularly severe in China with a population of 1.3 billion, especially in big cities whose growth outstrips the amount of toilets.
But some young women in the southern city of Guangzhou just couldn’t bear it anymore. They decided to cry out loud last Sunday in a campaign to “occupy male bathrooms” near a popular public park.
Li Maizi, the 23-year-old campaign organizer who insisted on using a pseudonym, told a local newspaper that the purpose was to raise the awareness of the public and the government.
“It seems like women and men are equal with the same amount of public bathrooms built for them. But the physical differences make them spend a different amount of time in the toilet – so it’s just not fair,” said Li.
Li, along with a few other young women, asked male passers-by who wanted to use the guy’s bathroom “do you mind waiting for a few minutes because the line in front of female toilet is too long?” They held signs reading “love women, starting with convenience” and “the more convenience, the more sexual equality.” Convenience in Chinese also means “to use a toilet.”
The women also handed out pink public letters to their male peers, calling for legislative steps to increase the number of public bathrooms for women to at least twice that of the opposite sex. They also demanded more unisex bathrooms in areas like railway stations and shopping malls.
The campaign was soon echoed by the public, and Sina Weibo, China’s most popular Twitter-like service, invited Li for a live chat on Thursday afternoon. Over 300 questions and comments were made, many from men who showed support. “I’m a man but I support you. All men have moms, wives, daughters and sisters. To occupy boys’ bathrooms is not the only goal. It should trigger the response from the government and the society,” said a Weibo user by the name of “Walking Camel.”
When asked where the idea of “occupying” originated, Li said she borrowed it from “Occupy Wall Street.”
“It echoes the campaign over there, although we are not connected at all," she said.
Following the live chat, Weibo launched an online survey, “Are you happy to use a unisex public bathroom?” But out of 13,000 respondents within one day, only 35 percent of the males and 14 percent of the females said “yes.”
In a phone interview with NBC News, Li said the government has responded to her efforts. The Guangzhou City Administration Committee said it plans to bring the issue up in the legislative process to build 1.5 times more female bathrooms than male.
Li wasn’t too happy with this result. “It’s just not enough. They should build at least twice the female restrooms than male ones,” she told NBC News, “and we have support from many, many people.”
Li plans to continue her campaign in other big cities like Beijing and Shenzhen.