Pali Lehohla
Pali Lehohla

The real numbers: Designing systems requires a lot of data

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jan 26, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Women like travelling and shopping. In fact many use toilet facilities more than men. 

The source of my evidence is what I will get to later. I would argue that designing systems requires a lot of data. In addition this and observations, assumptions are made and are embedded in the design with far reaching consequences.

I remember how I once shocked a side event of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on matters statistics and gender.

Most of the audience was naturally women. I made the same assertion that women like travelling and shopping more than men. And that they use toilets more than men.

The source of my evidence is shopping malls, restaurants and filling stations along the highway. In all instances the queue of women is invariably longer than that of men. So clearly women should be in the majority amongst those who travel.

But is that really true?

At the scratch of the surface it is not too difficult to point out the untruthfulness of the statement. But the assertion is associated more with design and less attention to

gender based needs. Perhaps the design for meeting gender differences might be a bio-cultural preference.

Why is it then that males have more facilities than women? Why is it that females do not

have at least more toilet seats than males?

This again is a matter of gender insensitive policies, driven by symmetrical architectural designs and drawings by males. Even in churches, shopping malls, filling stations and restaurants, it is always a given that men are entitled to a seat and urinary. These facilities are drawn symmetrically to optimise the floor space for men and women, yet with twice the possibility of access for men

Gender violence is not only about talking down women, discriminating against them even if they have better education, but in creating physical spaces that require privacy for moments of pressure.

Because males are responsible for design and construction of facilities women get the thin end of the stick. One day there might be a move for #MensToiletsMustfall. Then we may come to realise how the physical structures are actually vulgar to women. The myth on women, travelling, shopping malls and restaurants is only challenged in aeroplanes. I have I tried this evidence where both women and men file for the same facility.

This controlled environment proves that it is the gender based discrimination and the pain of women that exaggerates the false notion of travel. What is true is this: if you happen to be following a lady especially to that facility in the early morning arrival flights you will twist and turn from pressure, as she puts the last make-up and powder the nose, before a few looks in the mirror. At that moment, for once you may appreciate why it is important that equality in ablution is important. Gender violence comes in very many forms and it is so ubiquitous that undoing it takes an observant mind – that at times is the beauty of obscure power of statistics.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.

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