To pee or not to pee? Amsterdam court case sparks national row

Woman appeals fine for urinating in public, claiming sexual discrimination in a city that has far fewer toilets for women

Amsterdam: the  city has 35 public toilets for men  and just four for women

Amsterdam: the city has 35 public toilets for men and just four for women

 

A court case in which a 29-year-old woman was fined for urinating in public in Amsterdam has sparked a national row, with allegations of sexism against judges and the town hall – and claims that the city has fewer public toilets for women than any other European capital.

The story – now a cause célèbre on social media – began in 2015 when Geerte Piening was out with friends in the centre of the city and found herself “taken short” as they walked home.

With no toilet in sight, she headed for a dark alleyway while her friends kept watch. Three police officers approached at just the wrong moment and she was fined €140 for urinating in a public place.

“I was outnumbered at the time and I didn’t feel like getting into a discussion, but the next day I woke up and thought: ‘You know what, this isn’t right. I’m going to fight this.’”

Two-and-a-half years later, Ms Piening’s appeal was heard this week and, sure enough, her €140 fine was reduced to €90 because, the judge said, of the time the case had taken to be heard.

That was the good news. The bad news, however, was that the judge wasn’t impressed by the defendant’s views on what constituted sexism or sexual discrimination.

Men’s urinals

“It would be discrimination if a woman were fined €100, and a man €50, but that isn’t what happened,” he lectured her. “The ban on urinating in public applies to both men and women. You can’t just pee wherever you want.”

Where the judge seems to have gone too far, however, was in his view that there was no technical reason why women could not use men’s public urinals.

“It wouldn’t be pleasant, but it can be done,” he said.

That has led to a blizzard of caricatures online showing women struggling to cope in ancient, iron-framed men’s public loos – and a campaign on Facebook and at Twitter #wildplassen, suggesting that women invade men’s public toilets for a day of rage.

“It wasn’t my intention that this should become the enormous feminist thing that it has,” said Ms Piening.

“Still, it’s disgraceful that in a tourist city like Amsterdam, women have nowhere to ‘go’.”

One newspaper did the inevitable urinal count. It’s official: central Amsterdam has 35 public toilets for men and, believe it or not, just four for women.