WOLOO - India’s first powder room for women in Mumbai is more than a restroom
On the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared rural India open-defecation free (ODF). He added that building 11 crore toilets for 60 crore people within 60 months had left the world in awe and shock.
We might be ODF, but India still has a huge sanitation and hygiene problem.
In urban India, though one can find free public toilets or paid Sulabh Sauchalayas, they are either unhygienic or unsecure. Urban women are caught in the middle and often have to find commercial establishments like cafes or malls to relieve themselves.
Tackling the pee-roblem
Shivkala Mudaliar along with Manish Kelshikar decided to do something about this problem. They opened WOLOO (a portmanteau of women’s loo) - a power room facility for women near Thane railway station, Mumbai.
“We wanted to bring a hygiene facility without a ‘stink’ to it. When you talk about toilets or washrooms, there is an assumption of the stink and unhygienic environment that comes to your mind and we did not want that. So, when we were coming up with the plan, we said ‘How do we then portray it?’ or ‘What addition can we do make women comfortable?’ in this space?” says Shivkala, CEO and Co-founder.
“We brought the concept of powder rooms to India for the first time with a little twist to it. That’s how we added more facilities to the powder room,” she adds.
This first-of-its-kind powder room in India is a hygienic and sanitary place with toilets, secured with CCTVs, and equipped with a small cafe providing freshly brewed coffee, tea and beverages.
The air-conditioned facility has a convenience store which is women-centric and has beauty products, panties, sanitary pads, and more. With melodious music playing in the background, the powder room also has sewing kits for women if they have any tears or clothing malfunction while travelling in the heavily crowded Mumbai local. For mothers, it also has a diaper changing station and a place for feeding.
WOLOO opened its doors to women on November 19, which also marks World Toilet Day.
Shivkala explains why local train stations were discussion points for setting up WOLOO. “Every day at least eight million people use the Mumbai local trains - the lifeline of the city. Out of this, 41 percent are women. There are 100 heavy traffic railway stations, out of the 140 odd railway stations in the city. Each station has a footfall of not less than 35,000-40,000 women travellers each day.”
Shivkala is quick to point that urban women do not have access to proper sanitation facilities when travelling in Mumbai because of which they tend to not drink or eat well before leaving the house out of fear of not finding a clean sanitation facility.
This cemented their decision to set up the powder room near a railway station. With Thane connecting the harbour line and central line of the local trains, the place turned out to be a ideal location.
More than a washroom
The facility is more than just a washroom, says Shivkala. She envisions WOLOO to become a daily part of women travelling the gruelling local train routine and undertaking hard labour each day.
“WOLOO will become a place for every woman, it will be a comforting place for all women,” she says.
“Since the launch we have heard many stories of women who have used the facility. We had a mother who waited at the place for her daughter, because she felt safe. College students come use the changing rooms, if they go out to a party after college. If you have a break up or a bad day at work, you can come to WOLOO, have a cup of coffee or tea and relax. That is the role we want WOLOO to play in women’s lives,” she adds.
For every usage, women pay a service charge of Rs 20 which goes towards upkeep of the facility. lt also offers a subscription model, which costs Rs 499 for a month and women receive a complimentary cup of tea, coffee, water bottle or sanitary napkin with each use.
Expanding and empowering
After the successful opening of its first powder room in Mumbai, Shivkala is in talks with corporates for tie-ups and plans to open 10 more powder rooms in the first quarter of 2020.
“We will focus on Mumbai first and then expand to other metros as well,” she says.
Future plans also include a plan a franchise model for further expansion. Sivakala says they are also working on a model where individual women can have own their WOLOO powder room and earn a livelihood.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)
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