Uritrottoirs: How Public Urinals Prompted A Gender Equality Debate In France

By EachOther Reporter, 15 Sep 2018

French officials have labelled them a “genius invention”, but Paris’ uritrottoirs – open-air urinals – have been condemned as sexist and discriminatory by women’s rights campaigners.

The bright-red public urinals first appeared in the French capital over the summer, hailed as a solution to Paris’ ‘wild peeing’ problem.

An eco-friendly device, the uritrottoir – a combination of the French for urinal (“urinoir”) and pavement (“trottoir”) – is comprised mainly of straw, which will later be used as compost. Just one urinal can hold around 200 “pipis”, according to the design company Faltazi.

Despite their green and novel credentials, the uritrottoirs have prompted a backlash in Paris.

‘It’s Distasteful’

Notre DameParis’ Notre Dame. Image Credit: Fabrice Dennis / Flickr

Many locals have reported that the prominent uritrottoirs, which are signed with a cartoon of a man urinating, are out of kilter with the city’s beauty.

In particular, the uritrottoir placed on Île Saint-Louis – one of five locations where the urinals are installed – overlooks the River Seine and neighbours Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Cathedral.

“It’s distasteful. Paris is making a fool of itself”, summed up one local resident. Others have been keen to stress there is more than aesthetics at stake.

Feminist Backlash

Public urinal genderImage Credit: Rick Webb / Flickr

The uritrottoirs have raised an important debate about sex equality – enshrined as a human right thanks to Article 14 of the Human Rights Convention, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex.

Many have criticised the lack of investment in female facilities, while some have questioned the appropriateness of uritrottoirs altogether, accusing the French authorities of encouraging exhibitionism and therefore making women feel uneasy in public spaces.

More broadly, the debate has highlighted double standards within French society; men are encouraged to unzip, but women are lambasted for breastfeeding, say campaigners.

According to one prominent feminist, Gwendoline Coipeault, even the very concept of a uritrottoir is sexist. Speaking to Reuters, Coipeault said they centre on the proposition that “men cannot control themselves…and so all of society has to adapt”.

This feminist backlash reached fever pitch earlier this month, when protesters plastered some uritrottoirs with stained sanitary towels and tampons, before blocking them with concrete.

While one of the vandalised urinals has since been removed, the long-term fate of the uritrottoirs is yet to be determined.