The Problem with Gender Neutral Toilets


As more and more companies and organisations designate female toilets into gender neutral toilets (whilst leaving male toilets intact), the following paper by Dr Clara Greed, an expert in inclusive urban planning, explains why this is a problem for women.


THE PROBLEMS FOR WOMEN OF DESEGREGATING TOILETS AND GENDER NEUTRAL TOILETS

Dear All,

I have set out a summary of the key points in this short paper:

 The Problems and Issues

Women have less than half the level of provision of public toilets as men for sexist historical reasons.

In a typical block of toilets in any building, including offices, factories, cinemas, even if the floor-space area for the Ladies and Gents is the same, men will always have more places to pee because you can fit far more urinals in than cubicles.

Women always queue for the loo, because of unequal provision, the fact that women take longer to use the loo because of biological reasons, plus clothing differences and the need to access a cubicle.

Women have more reasons to use the toilet than men, including menstruation, menopause, pregnancy and incontinence, and also caring for babies, small children and elderly relatives.

Yet no government has accepted that this is a gross infringement of human rights and equalities legislation, more likely women are blamed for ‘taking too long’.

Women have waited and waited for change, and although they comprise just over half the population of the UK, there were 31 million men and 32.2 million women in the UK, women’s needs are disregarded or seen as a joke. See all the statistics at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/bulletins/2011censuspopulationestimatesfortheunitedkingdom/2012-12-1

People with disabilities of various sorts comprise around 20% of the population with an ageing population but they are lucky to find even one ‘disabled toilet’ (accessible toilet).

In contrast the newly arrived ‘transgender agenda’ has led to proposals for immediate change to accommodate a very very small section of the population. It is estimated there are around 5000 people have had gender re-assignment surgery in the UK, mainly male to female, with a further 165,000 who are challenged by binary toilet provision, including 30,000 intersex people and a range of gender fluid groups.  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/lgbt-people-uk-gay-lesbian-numbers-figures-record-high-a7982571.htm

Re-labelling the existing Ladies and Gents as Gender Neutral Toilets (GNTs) impacts upon women the most as they cannot use the urinals, which are often the only ‘toilets’ available in the Gents, whereas potentially all and any men can use the Ladies thus greatly increasing the queue for the loo.

In the UK, the Gender Identity (Protected Characteristics) Bill will enable any man (or woman) to choose which toilet they use.  This legislation would allow any person to self-define themselves as male or female without the need for medical certification of transgender status, allowing any man to enter women-only spaces such as toilets, showers, sports clubs, and women’s rape refuges. In the USA, toilets are already being desegregated, under Title IX legislation, to accommodate trans-sexual people, enabling anyone to use the Ladies.  This is resulting in the widespread desegregation of school, college and public building facilities, including restrooms, showers, changing rooms, room sharing in student accommodation,  and rape centres.

Many women see the changes as an attack on women’s rights, which effectively ‘erases women’ and takes away from them one of the remaining women-only spaces, that is toilets,  in the city of man. For example see Kathleen Sloan’s article,  ‘The gender identity movement erases women’ from Delaware Online, June 22, 2016 at https://stoptranschauvinism.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/the-gender-identity-movement-erases-women/

But if one talks about the problems for women, one is likely to be labelled transphobic, fundamentalist (a classic example of this is the angry reaction  towards Ashley Mc.Guire’s book of  2017, Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female, which includes many examples of the implications for women from the USA). In reality, many of the policies seem to be misogynist, or they simply did not even think to ask women what they think.  So ‘including one group excludes another’.

There is very little thought given to the design implications of the different needs of women and men in relation to urination and defecation, let alone the worries many women have about dealing with menstruation in mixed toilets.  Women are concerned about the location of many toilets, down corridors, in underpasses, and in unlit areas, and enabling potentially hostile men to enter the Ladies creates all sorts of personal safety issues. Much of the research supporting desegregating toilets has been done in relation to university campuses, by pro-desegregation groups,  which are not representative of the diverse range of toilet locations or types and ages of toilet users in the population as a whole.

A trend towards desegregating school toilets is particularly worrying for young teenage girls who have just started menstruating and want some privacy.  Women want separate cubicles and also secure places where they can use the washbasins too. All these changes have created a great deal of concern amongst women because of fears regarding privacy, embarrassment, and personal safety, especially amongst women who are wary [of men in the toilet] because of previous sexual attack.  Women are also deeply concerned about making a noise or smell with men being in the next cubicle to them, especially if the cubicles have a gap at floor level.

Mothers are particularly concerned about whether they can leave their toddlers, pushchairs and shopping outside the cubicle door (as so many cubicles are too small) when the access and circulation space outside the cubicles could be used by any male, and not just by other women (who are always keen to keep an eye on small children and belongings whilst their mothers use the toilet).

Legally, the decision to desegregate toilets is in contravention of the official government guidance, given within the British Standards and the related Building Regulations as to the levels of male/female toilet provision required. The British Standard, BS 6465 Sanitary Installations comes in four parts and covers all sorts of toilets, including public toilets, and all toilets in private buildings including office, shops, schools, hotels and so forth.

Part 1 of  BS 6465 deals with the levels of provision, including tables on levels of male/female facilities, (which until recently gave much higher levels of provision to men but the inclusion of a few women on the committee has enabled change) (BSI, 2006).  Part 2 is on internal design (BSI, 2017), including the size and design of cubicles. Part 3 covers plumbing specifications (BSI, 2006). Part 4 is a new standard, first developed in 2005, specifically on public toilets (BS1, 2010), for which I wrote the original draft, as one of the few female members of these committees.

(All the standards are subject to ongoing five-yearly review, updating, and public consultation and cannot be changed ‘instantly’ because of trans demands, as we need to take into account the needs of the whole population through representative consultation processes). The ‘linked’ Building Regulation Part G on water and sanitation provides the legal basis for the application of these British Standards (DCLG, 2016). BS8300 provides guidance on ‘accessible toilet’ provision, and is linked to Part M of the Building Regulations (DCLG, 2015). 

Converting the Ladies to ‘gender neutral’ or ‘toilets for everyone’ greatly reduces the level of cubicle availability for women, which is already inadequate. (Note we have seen several examples of signage where the Ladies are opened to ‘everyone’ but the ‘Gents’ is kept only for men.) In April 2017 the Barbican Arts Centre London,  jumped the gun, and took down the Ladies and Gents signs on its theatre toilets and renamed them, ‘Gender-Neutral Toilets’ and Gender-Neutral Toilets with Urinals’ respectively.  There is a great deal of pressure in theatres for people to use the toilet in a limited time during the interval. This resulted in furious rows as even longer queues for the Ladies, as men joined the line for the erstwhile Ladies toilet, widely reported in the press at the time. This move reduced the chances of women being able to use the already limited numbers of cubicles, whereas the men still had the option of using the urinals. Few women were brave enough to venture into the erstwhile Gents, as women are uneasy about having to walk past urinals in use.

Some groups of women are more affected than others by gender desegregation, especially those Moslem, Hindu, and Orthodox Jewish women who are forbidden to share public toilet buildings with male strangers, especially when menstruating, and so, whether they are tourists or local residents, they are effectively barred from public toilets. But the Mayor of the Greater London Authority (GLA) has committed to making future public toilets gender neutral in the city.

Likewise re-labelling the disabled toilet as ‘inclusive toilets’ creates more problems for people with disabilities who may find that they have to wait even longer to use the accessible toilet if other groups now feel they are entitled to use their facilities.

Existing under-provision of toilets for women has also been illegal for a long time under the requirements of the PSED (Public Sector Equality Duty under the 2010 Equality Act and earlier Equality Acts). The PSED was meant to require local authorities and other public providers to achieve equality in the provision of goods and services, including toilet provision. But such requirements have been widely flouted in respect of toilet provision for women, and seem to sink without a trace.

Toilet desegregation is definitely illegal from a global perspective in respect of United Nations Directives which apply to all member countries including the UK. In fact much of the toilet-desegregation guidance that has come down from the EU is also in contravention of UN requirements. Seeking to abolish the segregation of toilets into separate male and female facilities should not be equated with eliminating racial segregation, and thus automatically seen as ‘good’ or ‘progress’. Toilets are segregated for good reason. 

Lack of separate facilities for girls and women can restrict their use of the toilet, in both schools and workplaces, particularly in developing countries. The United Nations Report on The Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation states that gender-specific toilets should be provided, especially in schools, where privacy to deal with menstruation becomes a major factor in determining whether girls attend school or drop out (Albuquerque and Roaf, 2012, pp 35, 153-4).  Around a quarter of all girls and women of child-bearing age will be menstruating at any one time, and in some African countries (including Kenya). Those girls that do stay on at school are likely to be absent for up to 5 days every month or just drop out. 

Gender segregation is presented as a priority in achieving equality for women, especially in developing countries Paragraph 2.1.2 of the UNICEF document on applying Sustainable Development Goals (especially SDG 6) to sanitation specifies that separate school toilets should always be provided for girls (UNICEF, 2016).  As a UN member and signatory to UN Directives on sanitation, gender, and equality, the UK (and other developed countries) cannot see themselves as ‘above’ these requirements. The requirement for separate toilets for women applies to all countries, and thus arguably takes precedence over UK toilet desegregation policies and transgender –related laws. 

I argue strongly against desegregating public toilets, but I would concede that the provision of a few additional separate, self-contained cubicles (located outside the Ladies or the Gents) would give those who feel ‘gender-challenged’ about using existing facilities an alternative without taking scarce toilet facilities from existing female users. But these must be in addition to separate accessible toilets for the disabled.

Some have suggested rebuilding all toilets to consist of self-contained cubicles with their own washbasin inside. However in times of financial cut backs, and ongoing public toilet closure,  this is unlikely to happen and  in any case it does not address the issue of the need to provide large numbers of toilets in pressured situations such as at the interval in a cinema or theatre, or in busy shopping malls where most of the users are likely to be female.


References

I include just a few references:

Albuquerque, Catarina de with Roaf, Virginia (2012) On the Right Track: Good Practices in Realising the Rights to Water and Sanitation,   London: United Nations, Human Rights to Water and Sanitation Declaration, UN Special Rapporteur Report, page 35.

BSI (2006) BS 6465-1:2006: Sanitary installations. Code of practice for the design of sanitary facilities and scales of provision of sanitary and associated appliances, London: British Standards Institute.

BSI (2017) BS 6465-2:2017:  Sanitary Installations. Space recommendations – code of practice, London: BSI

BSI  (2006) BS 6465-3:2006 : Sanitary Installations. Code of practice for the selection, installation and maintenance of sanitary and associated appliances, London: BSI

BSI (2010) BS 6465-4:2010 Sanitary Installations. Code of practice for the provision of public toilets, London: BSI.

BSI (2009) BS 8300:2009+A1:2010,  Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people. Code of practice,  London: BSI

DCLG (2015) Access to and use of buildings: Approved Document M: Building regulation in England to ensure that people are able to access and use buildings and their facilities. London: Department of Communities and Local Government

DCLG (2016) Sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency, Approved Document G of the Building Regulations, London: DCLG

Mc.Guire, Ashley (2017)  Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female, Washington: Regnery Publishing, Salem Media Group.

Sloan, Kathleen (2016) ‘The gender identity movement erases women’ Delaware Online, June 22, see https://stoptranschauvinism.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/the-gender-identity-movement-erases-women/

Sommer, Marnie, Chandraratna, Sahani, Mahon, Therese and Phillips-Howard, Penelope (2016) ‘Managing menstruation in the workplace: an overlooked issue in low and middle income countries’, International Journal for Equity in Health,  Vol.15, No. 86, pp 1-5 

UNICEF (2016) Core Questions and Indicators for Monitoring WASH in Schools in the Sustainable Development Goals, New York: UNICEF with WHO.

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8 Responses to The Problem with Gender Neutral Toilets

  1. Clare B Dimyon MBE says:

    hand washing different rates EXCELLENT article how uni-sex provision is in fact discrimination by defnition

  2. pam says:

    Please don’t call them Gender Neutral. There is no such thing. Mixed sex .

  3. Miriam Yagud says:

    Thankyou for this highly informative article. You have helped to make sense of the frustration I and many other female friends and relatives have felt for years about the lack of appropriate provision of toilets.

  4. Christy says:

    If I feel uncomfortable around people of a different race, is that grounds for segregation? If a white woman a few cubicles down makes me uncomfortable to change my tampon, should we bring back racially segregated bathrooms?

  5. Deborah says:

    I’ve never read so much nonsense in my life! Women who feel that they dont have equality in the bathroom facilities provided taking their frustration out on people who then have absolutely no bathroom facilities. If you’re concerned about safety, embarrassment or anything else for that matter then you need to look at the real underlying reasons for that, not take that anger out on those who are not part of the problem. Dangerous spaces for women are caused by dangerous people, not gender neutral toilets!
    I agree with the above comment that likens this to racism, and the people agreeing with this post should take a good look at themselves – perhaps even just to consider how they would like to be treated had they been born in a body considered different, or a body that they did not identify with.

  6. Stacy says:

    “If I feel uncomfortable around people of a different race, is that grounds for segregation? If a white woman a few cubicles down makes me uncomfortable to change my tampon, should we bring back racially segregated bathrooms?”

    What an appallingly racist comparison, Christy.

    Black people were segregated from whites in the U.S.–following centuries of slavery–because the whites considered them inferior and wanted to maintain white supremacy.

    The reasons for opposing turning women’s toilets into “gender neutral” ones are given above.

    Women–that is, female-bodied people–are once again being treated as the second, or second-class, sex, our needs ignored. And specious arguments like yours are trotted out to try and guilt us into compliance.

    No. We will not go along with our erasure.

  7. Stacy says:

    Deborah, lots of people don’t “identify with” their bodies. It’s a common part of the human condition.

    It doesn’t give one the right to compel others to see one as one sees oneself. Reality often bites. But it’s still reality.

  8. Shades Of Meaning says:

    Good article. Disappointing to see people trying to conflate this with racism. Such comparisons rely themselves on the assumption that there is a fundamental difference between races. There is however a fundamental difference between men and women.

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