'Potty Parity' Bill to End Some Long Ladies' Room Lines

Lawmakers want the government to ensure potty parity in federal buildings.

May 12, 2010, 9:31 AM

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2010 -- For most women, long waits to use restroom facilities in public buildings, sports arenas, theaters and airports are a familiar if not uncomfortable and exasperating reality.

Some even see disparities in the number of men's and women's toilets as a lingering form of gender discrimination from decades past.

Now Congress hopes "potty parity" legislation can provide some much needed relief to the bladders of women and children nationwide, at least those who visit or work in new federal government buildings. The bill would require an equal number of toilets for each gender.

"Holding it in can take its toll," Kathryn Anthony, an architecture professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and expert on "gender issues in design," told a House panel considering the bill today.

"Emergencies happen," she said. "Accidents happen. Urinary tract infections happen. Delaying voiding can result in serious medical conditions. It is now time for our federal government to act."

Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and other lawmakers want the government to require all newly constructed or leased federal buildings to have equal restroom facilities for women and men.

The so-called "Potty Parity" bill would end what they call the "unfathomable" discrimination women face by the infrastructure disparities in their workplaces.

The average American uses a toilet more than half a dozen times a day, nearly 3,000 times a year, and, all told, will spend up to two years of an entire life in the restroom.

"It's very troubling that you may be more likely to see in federal buildings women waiting in line for a restroom than you are to see them on the floor of the Senate," said Erin Matson, spokeswoman for the National Organization for Women, which supports the bill.

Experts say fewer toilets for women today largely reflect a previous era when women weren't as prominent in the workforce. It's a lingering reminder, Anthony said, of a "subtle yet powerful form of gender discrimination."

Potty Parity Bill to Address 'Archaic' Government Facilities

The bill would apply only to new federal structures and not existing federal buildings, unless they are undergoing renovation. It also includes an exemption clause in the event a one-to-one ratio is unfeasible.

The General Services Administration, which maintains workspace for more than 1 million federal employees and contractors, says it supports the measure.

"The average age for a GSA building is 46 years," Robert A. Peck, the GSA commissioner of public buildings, said. "GSA has over 500 buildings that were built before 1950, during a time in which there were fewer women in the workforce. … The issue of gender parity should be addressed as we undertake future construction, modernization and leasing actions."

In a letter to their House colleagues earlier this year, Towns and Issa called government infrastructure "grossly archaic."

"It is imperative that we ensure women are not placed in situations that will force discomfort due to sensitive medical situations and restrict their choice of work location," they said.

A previous version of the bill, which had advocated a 2-to-1 female-to-male ratio for toilets and included broader mandates to include non-government buildings such as restaurants and ballparks failed to garner enough support.

National restroom and restaurant groups have opposed the 2-to-1 ratio and attempts to impose sweeping guidelines for private businesses.

Towns, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says as gender parity continues to gain importance in society, solving the problem must begin with addressing "insufficient facilities for women in public buildings."

"It is so easy to make light of this effort and mock those advancing the cause," former Washington, D.C., Mayor Sharon Pratt said. "I can speak from personal observation and experience … that the disparity in restrooms is glaring, inconvenient, enormously insufficient and downright unfair."

ABC News' Tom Shine contributed to this report.