Making Space for Menstruation

October 30, 2018



The residents of Stockholm have called for a lack of public and accessible toilets in the city, according to several news sources. How come safe, hygienic, sanitary and comfortable public toilets are a rare find in Stockholm?

In an article from 2017, the Swedish public television broadcaster reported on the inadequacy of free public toilets in the inner city of Stockholm as a result of the difficulties associated with obtaining a building permit for public toilets. David Helldén, the commissioner of building and traffic in the Stockholm City Council, confirms the challenges of obtaining permits for these green structures, attempting to give an explanation as to why there are so few. Helldén’s explanation arguably points to an issue of priority.

Judith Butler’s accounts on vulnerability and resistance resonates well in the issue of accessible public toilets in Stockholm for menstruators. Butler questions ‘what architectural supports have to be in place for each of us to exercise a certain freedom of movement, one that is necessary in order to exercise the right to public assembly.’ When considering a wider, more global context, the issue of adequate sanitation access for women and girls becomes very apparent when discussing the freedom of movement being inflicted upon as a result of the deficient infrastructure for addressing menstruation. SIDA, The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, reports on how many of these women and girls are forced to abandon their professional or educational commitments to stay at home during their menstruation because of the lack of architectural supports of an infrastructure attending to menstruation. The harmful stigma of menstruation in turn contributes to the restraint of movement, education, and so forth, for uterine carriers.

Returning to the context of Stockholm, where uterine carriers and their freedom of movement is certainly not as limited, the issue remains complex. BBC reported last year on the lack of sanitary facilities for women in the West, resulting in the restriction of many women’s freedom of movement. Observing the public toilet on Medborgarplatsen a sunny Sunday, when the square is busy with people trying to get the very last bit of sun for the season, the toilet was rarely occupied. I can presume that many, myself included, fear the hygienic state of the toilet once they open the door. After a short hunt for some coins, I could confirm that the toilet was not satisfactory to say the least, with no soap or paper to be seen, and the floor being quite wet. Frankly, it was not a pleasant experience.

The location seems to be exemplary in theory, with the metro, bus stop, garage, bike rental station, several bars and restaurants within close proximity, however (or because of) public toilets often do not meet the demands of hygiene, sanitation, comfort and safety. In addition, the square of Medborgarplatsen often accommodates public assembly, corresponding to associated issues raised in Butlers text. It is a platform for people to raise important issues. However, what happens to the uterine carriers that want to participate in the public assembly during their menstruation? Where do uterine carriers go when the cup needs to be emptied or the tampon changed? While most menstruators would have a plan for the management of their menstruation, I want to suggest it is because they have been taught to do so, because their built environment will unfortunately not facilitate their management.


02_Infrastructural Vulnerabilities_Sara Sako

Public sanitation access in Stockholm


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