There has been a lot of media attention recently about the controversial introduction of ‘gender neutral’ pupil toilets in schools. The various interpretations of the term ‘gender neutral’ has only added to the confusion so it’s important to be clear from the outset that it means mixed sex toilets as they are not in fact what we would widely recognise as standard single user accessible Unisex toilets.
Apparently, this has been done as it reflects our moving society, but is there really a demand for mixed sex toilets in our workplaces, shopping centres, restaurants and pubs? Whenever I’ve raised concerns about this, I’m informed that it’s just the wash area that’s mixed sex, no big deal, right? I can only speak of the goings on in Female toilets so I know in addition to washing our hands, we also adjust our clothing, brush our hair or apply makeup. How many of us would be comfortable with that when strangers of the opposite sex are standing at the next sink? But it’s acceptable for children and teenagers?
Not only have school toilets become mixed sex many are now open spaces with no external doors thereby making them easily visible from the ‘outside’. Just like adults, youngsters have a right to privacy with a space free from the watchful eye of teachers, even just for 5 minutes. Would we accept a workplace environment where our boss could monitor us at all times? Traditionally school toilets are a place where adolescents would meet and discuss the various embarrassments that accompanying puberty, and we are denying this new generation of that vital interaction. Supporters argue this ‘inclusive’ approach benefits our children and is a positive step towards gender equality. I think society has a lot of work to do before we can even consider mixed sex toilets. Did schools give any thoughts to how it would impact on the incidents of non-consensual sexual attention that girls are exposed to daily? Did they even consider the consensual promiscuity of teenagers and how they will no longer need to hide behind the bike sheds to find seclusion, as easily accessible and lockable spaces, safe from any disturbance are now provided for them?
Schools have a responsibility to keep children safe from harm, and we know that school toilets can be a place of increased anxiety for many, particularly those with concerns over privacy, pupils with disabilities or medical conditions, transgender pupils and vulnerable pupils with an increased risk of bullying. Schools should try to accommodate all its vulnerable pupils with the provision of additional private Unisex toilets. The idea that the concerns of vulnerable children would be improved by making them share toilets with the opposite sex is very puzzling, if anything wouldn’t it only serve to increase their problems?
Schools explain their main motivation behind this redesign was to reduce the incidents of vandalism and bullying but, privacy rights aside, surely that’s just an argument to support an open plan design, it doesn’t explain why they would need be mixed sex. These new schools will inevitably age, toilet door locks will be broken and when that happens will children be okay using them when strangers of the opposite sex are on the other side? As adults would we be okay with it? If we are going to impose anything onto children, then we need to first ask ourselves would it be acceptable for adults?
This public debate over ‘gender neutral’ toilets is clearly needed but it should have happened long before schools introduced them.
Even more importantly, supporters of mixed sex toilets should have prioritised campaigning the government in a bid to first make them lawful.
Campaigner for the rights of Women and Girls
Writer of the blog www.scottish-women.com
This Opinion Piece was Published in the Sunday Post.
I have sent open letters to the following Local Authorities, click on the links below to read them.
This blog about Scottish Futures Trust contains a table of over 100 schools from all across Scotland that are part of this roll-out programme. Many of which are either still under construction or works have not yet started. It’s worth checking if schools in your area are included.
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