'Potty Parity Act' drawn up – to the relief of America's legion of female officials

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The Independent US

Had you been on Capitol Hill this week looking for panels investigating BP oil spills, perhaps, or in search of closed-door cabals with the visiting Afghan President, you might have stumbled instead into the legislative equivalent of a women's lavatory. The talk would not have been of spills and slicks but splashes and flushes.

Keep the lavatory humour zipped. There was serious business going on when Edolphus Towns, a Democrat from New York, convened the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to consider draft legislation to tackle an urgent national problem: the disparity between men and women when it comes to water-closet facilities.

For a country that has striven since its founding to guarantee equality for all, this may be one of the last glaring social deficiencies. Boys in need of a tinkle rarely meet obstacles. Girls, on the other hand, need bladders of steel.

The so-called Potty Parity Act drafted by Representative Towns would require that all new federal buildings in the US and those undergoing renovations be equipped with sufficient numbers of stalls for women to ensure that they never have to wait longer than men to find relief. "These buildings were designed and built at a time when contractors, architects, engineers, builders and government procurement officials were overwhelmingly male and rarely considered the needs of women," Mr Towns offered. "To be honest about it, while women have made a lot of progress, those professions are still dominated by men."

His one-day hearing was fairly bursting with supporting testimony and evidence. Who knew that by the time of 80 most women will have spent two years of their life in the loo, a nugget provided by Kathryn Anthony, a professor of architecture from the University of Illinois.

"All too often we watch our male counterparts zip in and out of the restroom in a flash, while at the ladies' room, we are stuck waiting in long lines," she said. The whole issue, she went on is "near and dear to the hearts and bladders of women and children" all across America.

While the anatomical differences between men and women were not discussed in detail, it is a factor that should not be ignored, noted Stephen Cohen, a Republican from Tennessee. More complicated clothing styles and the need for a stall for each individual female visit were also issues the committee must ponder, he said.

The Potty Parity Act will be law soon. Assuming there are no stalls.

Pressing issues

* The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1992 made it a crime, punishable with $2,500 fine, to install toilets in new homes with a flush tank greater than 1.6 gallons. Older US toilets sent 3.5 gallons swooshing down the bowl. The result: millions of Americans are forced to flush twice or three times to get the job done. Building contractors report a burgeoning black market in the old-style bogs.

* CEPTIA. This is not a sewage collection tank, but rather the once all-powerful Committee to End Public Toilets In America. There used to be 50,000 pay toilets across the land. By the end of 1970s they were virtually all gone.