Last year the Scottish Government opened a public consultation for possible changes to the regulations that govern school toilets and many objections to the option of introducing gender neutral toilets were made. Strong calls from the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (CYPCS) emphasised the importance that “school toilet facilities (be) compliant with human rights duties and informed by International standards”, with specific warnings where “infrastructure and management standards of school toilets are poor there is a risk of a breach of children’s rights under the UNCRC”. The government thereafter published the analysis of these responses and their plan to draft new Regulations for parliamentary approval in early 2018 was never progressed.

The CYPCS’s submission was strongly evidenced, citing both child rights law and research they undertook on school toilets, ‘Flushed with Success’, which most importantly included the views of children. The evidence highlighted the profound effect that school premises can have on children and young people’s educational opportunities and experiences.

Main points learned included:

1. There is evidence that poor standards and qualities of school toilet infrastructure and management is an ongoing issue that is important to children and young people

2. Children and young people who dislike using school toilets because of hygiene or privacy concerns or who experience bullying may be more afraid to use school toilets if they are not well managed, which results in negative physical and emotional health impacts

3. Children and young people may find engagement with school and learning challenging when their sanitary, privacy or safety needs are not appropriately met, either through inadequately resourced or managed toilets, lack of privacy or/and free access to toilets when required. Example: Lack of private space in which to adjust headscarves.

4. Adolescent girls, children more at risk of bullying or who lack confidence and children and young people with disabilities or health issues may be affected disproportionately.

The CYPCS strongly recommended that

“The regulations must be supported by statutory guidance, informed by children and young people, on the management, resourcing and upkeep of school toilet facilities compliant with human rights duties and informed by International standards (WASH in Schools). “

WASH in Schools‘ International Standards require schools have ‘child and gender friendly toilets’ i.e. separate facilities for girls. It stresses that privacy and safety are recognised world wide to be of particularly high importance for adolescent girls, who suffer disproportionately when these requirements are not met.

 “Lack of privacy: When reaching puberty children start to develop awareness on their own development and physical changes. This awareness creates a need for gender-related privacy which becomes particularly evident when using toilets and even more so for girls who are menstruating. If no privacy is provided, children will choose to not use the facilities and rather look for an informal private place to use or wait until after school hours

(Sexual) harassment in toilets : Harassment and rape of adolescent girls at schools is a serious and wide-spread problem. Worldwide, 40-47 percent of sexual assaults affect girls age 15 or younger.

Where privacy is an important issue, safety seems to be even more important for adolescent school girls. “

The Government analysis included comments from other respondents such as

‘child’s right to privacy, dignity and safety were under threat from the disaggregation of sex specific spaces such as toilets. ‘

‘The impact of ‘forcing’ them to share these facilities with people of the opposite sex, but who identify as the same sex is considerable and will negatively impact the rights of all’

‘all toilets cannot be gender neutral due to the vulnerability of young female students.’

The publication continued:

‘There was a question as to whether all toilets being gender neutral was appropriate, with the recognition that many young girls already feel vulnerable using current facilities at school. Female only toilets were considered more than just a sanitary facility but also a place where privacy can be gained, where a child can feel safe and where they can deal with developmental issues such as menstruation”

The Government have clearly reconsidered their plans to amend these regulations in light of CYPCS alerting them to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 2 violation in respect of the discrimination of girls within educational settings:

“gender discrimination can be reinforced by practices such as a curriculum which is inconsistent with the principles of gender equality, by arrangements which limit the benefits girls can obtain from the educational opportunities offered, and by unsafe or unfriendly environments which discourage girls’ participation.”

The Government document concluded with:

“The additional consideration given to children and young people not identifying with their biological gender was broadly welcomed as was the potential provision of gender neutral toilet and washing facilities. The need for gender specific facilities was an area of continuing debate.”

There’s absolutely no doubt that there is a need for a debate on ‘gender neutral’ toilets to be held, however back up there a moment…

” ….. as was the potential provision of gender neutral toilet and washing facilities ….”

Is that a confirmation from the Scottish Government that as it currently stands, the regulations DO NOT have a provision for gender neutral toilets AND washing facilities?

Well, I already know the answer to that as I’ve blogged about it before, here, here and here. I’ve also written numerous FoI requests to the various Scottish Councils the media reported as having already introduced mixed sex facilities that fail to account for the privacy needs of children, especially girls. (Post to follow).

But in the meantime any parents out there might want to raise these points with their child’s school, Council, Councillor’s, MSP’s or the Equalities Human Rights Commission and ask them why the School has went ahead and altered the single sex toilets to illegal mixed sex spaces, that are discriminatory against girls on the basis of their safety and privacy.

‘Gender Neutral’ toilets are NOT supported by the Scottish Government,

‘Gender Neutral’ toilets are NOT supported by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland,

‘Gender Neutral’ toilets are NOT supported by the current regulations in Scotland.

‘Gender Neutral’ toilets are NOT supported by best international standards as set by UNICEF.

‘Gender Neutral’ toilets are NOT supported by UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

So, why on earth has a handful of Councils in Scotland decided to go ahead and introduce them against ALL international best practice and legal requirements?

….. have they really done this because Stonewall Scotland or LGBT Youth Scotland or Scottish Trans Alliance convinced them it was a good idea?

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