Making public toilets more inclusive … are different toilet designs the answer? Unisex, all-gender, gender-neutral?

  • andreshuesoWA
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Are public toilets inclusive of transgender and intersex people?

"Many people struggle with the binary choice between female and male toilets"

We have started looking at this topic - you can see some of our findings in this blog:
www.wateraid.org/news/blogs/2017/july/sa...ng-beyond-the-binary

Have you or your organisation any experience or knowledge on the topic?

We are also starting a small e-mail group for those interested to be in touch and collaborate. Drop a line if you want to join.

Cheers!

Andrés Hueso
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Re: Are public toilets inclusive of transgender and intersex people?

Dear Andres,

An important topic indeed. I am wondering if you had already seen a previous thread on this topic which was started by Carol in the U.S. and is on the forum here?:
"Social inclusion, toilet rights, and legal protection for transgender Americans (and unisex public toilets)"
forum.susana.org/170-shared-toilets-comm...nisex-public-toilets

Could you please also post in that thread to react what was said there? E.g. I wonder if the situation in the U.S. has any relevance to developing countries or if it's a totally separate issue. (I am still baffled how in the "land of the free" where freedom, independence and human rights are so important, there could be such a "toilet war" with some few (?) people honestly arguing that people must use the public toilet of their gender assigned to them at birth, not the one they might have aligned with later.

I noticed from your blog these important statements:

Another alternative gaining popularity in Western countries is gender-neutral toilets, where people can access all toilets irrespective of their gender. This option is not recommended, however, in contexts and places where it may increase the risk of violence against women or transgender people, or where it is deemed culturally inappropriate. Even where that is not the case, the solution might not be as straightforward as it seems.


By the way, I have been keeping an eye on two Wikipedia articles dealing with this topic:
Unisex public toilet: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unisex_public_toilet
Sex segregation in public restrooms en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_segregation_in_public_restrooms
I think the two articles ought to be merged into one, but I'm not sufficiently into this topic to do it myself. But if someone is willing to collaborate, we could tackle this together?

Regards,
Elisabeth

P.S. I have moved your post to the category on "public toilets" as it fits better than than under "inclusion" which deals with disability issues. And would it make sense to merge this thread with the existing one to keep it all together? If yes, we could change the thread title. Keeping it as two separate threads might also have advantages though.

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  • andreshuesoWA
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Re: Are public toilets inclusive of transgender and intersex people?

Hi Elizabeth,

Thanks for your reply.

I had not seen the related post, thanks for pointing it out.

Our main focus is on the situation in developing countries, and as highlighted in the blog and posts, the issues and solutions faced there are quite different. In part because fewer people undergo sex reassignment surgery, so transgender people are very easily identified. As a consequence, their problem is being able to access a toilet at all without being harassed, ridiculed or expelled (rather than just having to go to the one they do not identify with). Hence I would keep it as a separate thread.

Cheers!

Andrés

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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Are public toilets inclusive of transgender and intersex people?

This is probably going to be a controversial opinion, but do you really think coming up with some sort of separate or differently labelled toilet is going to reduce the ridicule these people have to deal with in most places? It's not like they can't use the existing toilets, so it is not comparable to accessible designs for persons with special needs / persons with disabilities.

You could argue that every little bit helps, but when many places don't even have a dignified toilet in general this seems to really miss the point. I could also imagine that in most places transgender persons would rather stay low-profile and thus would prefer using the regular toilets anyway.

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  • andreshuesoWA
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Re: Are public toilets inclusive of transgender and intersex people?

Thanks Kris. Some quick thoughts on your ideas:

"I could also imagine that in most places transgender persons would rather stay low-profile and thus would prefer using the regular toilets anyway" I would assume that will be the case for instance in some African countries, yes. But good to have a conversation with them to confirm. But it is clearly not the case in many South Asian countries, such as India where transgender communities and activists are demanding solutions.
It does affect them beyond being ridiculed - harrasment, abuse. There are reports of people being expelled, others preventively 'holding on', with the health consequences we know.

"Do you really think coming up with some sort of separate or differently labelled toilet is going to reduce the ridicule these people have to deal with in most places?"
Not sure if in most places, but in some places, it will. We are not advocating for that as THE solution, we just present it as a solution that has been suggested in some contexts. In other places, a unisex accessible cubicle can be a more discreet solution that serves these communities best. Our main point is that it would be good to look at the issue and see what makes more sense to solve it.

"It is not comparable to accessible designs for persons with special needs / persons with disabilities. (...) You could argue that every little bit helps, but when many places don't even have a dignified toilet in general this seems to really miss the point."

We are not comparing this with accessibility - which by the way present more synergy than contradiction, as in my example above. Similarly, I don't see why catering for minorities (be those with accessibility needs, be it gender minorities) should take from the overall effort to ensure access. I actually think that including measures to cater for the needs of transgender/intersex people when building public toilets will contribute to universal access without detracting from those wider efforts...

Andrés Hueso
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Re: Are public toilets inclusive of transgender and intersex people?

Hi Andres,

I really enjoyed your presentation at WEDC, it's such an interesting topic.

I think you were also in Clara Greed's session where she spoke about how in the UK there are ~30 million people who identify as cis-women (who are under catered for with regards public toilets for historical reasons) and only a few thousand people who identify as trans-gender, so her argument goes that we should be investing in more female public toilets rather than self-contained gender-neutral toilets. So now I am engaged in a (friendly!) debate with my husband around how we balance these - is it about letting people use whichever toilet they want (RE: infamous US bathroom bill), but which still makes people choose a gender? Or not making people choose a gender, instead installing more gender-neutral toilets? Or just investing more in female public toilets to lessen the provision gap and hoping it all sorts itself out?

Any thoughts about how to manage the give-and-take? I realise you don't have the answer either, but seems like a great discussion to be having / research to be conducting - and as you say in your response to Kris, not just a conversation amongst those of us living in the UK/higher income countries, but actually asking people across the geographical and gender spectrum what they think.

Dani Barrington, PhD, BE (Hons), BSc

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  • andreshuesoWA
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Re: Are public toilets inclusive of transgender and intersex people?

Thanks, Dani, I am glad you liked the presentation!

First, I would be careful with numbers game 'there are much fewer transgender people than women'. It is a dangerous argumentation, which you could reproduce to advocate against accessible toilets: "there are 2.3 billion people without sanitation and only a few millions of people with disabilities, focus on them instead of wasting money in making facilities accessible"... Copy paste for other minorities.

Second, I don't think that taking into accounts the need of transgender and intersexual people takes from catering for the needs of women.
But I would agree that moving towards gender-neutral toilets everywhere is not THE solution. Not in most developing country settings where we are looking at, but also not always in places in the UK.

The only rule I think is that solutions have to be context dependent.

Thinking of the UK, in institutions where you have individual cubicles, in most cases there shouldn't be a problem in making them gender neutral.
In places where you already have male and female sections that are difficult/expensive to change, as well as in public places where for safety reasons it is important to have separate female toilets, maybe it is just about making sure that there is at least one gender-neutral cubicle (eg the accessible one).

In addition, the UK needs to invest in public toilets in general, building new ones or putting old ones in use (instead of turning them into fancy bars). These should be affordable and accessible. And unless gender-neutral cubicles are possible and adequate, facilities should be trans-friendly (at least a neutral cubicle), as well as female-friendly (give more than just 50% of the built area to female section!, take safety issues into account, menstrual hygiene...).

In summary, I think it is about being creative, not looking at it as a zero-sum game and adapting to context.

Thanks!

Andrés

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Re: Are public toilets inclusive of transgender and intersex people?

I agree, but I do enjoy the toilet bars ;-)

Dani Barrington, PhD, BE (Hons), BSc

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Re: Are public toilets inclusive of transgender and intersex people?

andreshuesoWA wrote: First, I would be careful with numbers game 'there are much fewer transgender people than women'. It is a dangerous argumentation, which you could reproduce to advocate against accessible toilets: "there are 2.3 billion people without sanitation and only a few millions of people with disabilities, focus on them instead of wasting money in making facilities accessible"... Copy paste for other minorities.


This is actually an at least equally dangerous line of thought. Yes it sounds agreeable at first, but this kind of dichotomy leads nowhere. When building toilets (emphasis), one should always take accessibility into reasonable consideration (as well as trans-gender issues!), but in the end it is always a numbers game and building three somewhat accessible toilets is better than build one that is super accessible in nearly all cases. Its never a Yes/No kind of thought, but very much a grey area.

andreshuesoWA wrote: Second, I don't think that taking into accounts the need of transgender and intersexual people takes from catering for the needs of women.
But I would agree that moving towards gender-neutral toilets everywhere is THE solution. Not in most developing country settings where we are looking at, but also in places in the UK.


Having been in Stockholm recently where gender neutral toilets are not uncommon, I would say they do take away from the needs of men and women to some extend. Because this usually excludes the use of urinals, this results in much longer waiting lines (and higher cleaning needs) for everyone involved. But maybe the solution to that that is rather female urinals as well ;)

andreshuesoWA wrote: The only rule I think is that solutions have to be context dependent.
(...)
In summary, I think it is about being creative, not looking at it as a zero-sum game and adapting to context.


But I think we can all agree on that :)

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  • F H Mughal
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Re: Sex-Segregated Toilets

Sex-Segregated Toilets

A recent post by Maitreyi Bordia Dan on the tyranny of toilets ( blogs.worldbank.org/water/tyranny-toilets ), speaks of sex-segregated toilets. In Muslim areas, the toilets for male and female are separate.

Maitreyi, author of The Rising Tide – A New Look at Water and Gender, a interesting and useful publication, available at: openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/ha...quence=4&isAllowed=y , gives a link to another publication: Michigan Journal of Gender and Law Volume 14 | Issue 1 2007 Sex-Separation in Public Restrooms: Law, Architecture, and Gender by Terry S. Kogan, University of Utah ( repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent...le=1067&context=mjgl ), which gives somewhat comical thoughts:


• “you happen to be a wheelchair-user who needs the assistance of your opposite-sex partner in a public restroom facility.
• you happen to be a transsexual person dressed in accord with your gender identity who is prohibited from using the workplace restroom designated for the sex with which you identify.
• you happen to be a woman at a rock concert standing in a long line outside the restroom marked ‘Women,’ while no line exists outside the door marked ‘Men’.
• you happen to be a parent tending an opposite-sex, five year-old child when you or your child suddenly needs a public restroom.
• you happen to be an intersexed child, born with ambiguous genitals and/or reproductive organs, whose parents have decided (despite social pressure and pressure from the medical community) not to subject their child to surgery until the child can participate in that decision.”

Kogan says:

“This Article demonstrates that the first laws mandating sex-separation of workplace toilet facilities at the end of the nineteenth century were rooted in the "separate spheres" ideology of the early century, an ideology that considered a woman's proper place to be in the home, tending the hearth fire, and rearing children. By the end of the century, the separate spheres ideology had been filtered through the science of the realist movement, the public health concerns of the sanitarian movement, and the vision of modesty embraced by late Victorian society. Nonetheless, the legal requirement that public restrooms be sex-separated owes its origins to the early nineteenth century ideology that advocated a cult of true womanhood, a vision of the pure, virtuous woman protected within the walls of her domestic haven.”

Maitreyi says: “Take the case of the United States, where the movement against segregated toilets is symbolic of the assertion of sexual minorities. This assertion is premised upon the fact that gender identity, not sex at birth, should determine individual choice. The backlash is equally vehement and has played out in the legal and social realms, with laws passed for and against segregated toilets.”

There is a lot of talk on gender-neutral toilets or unisex toilets in the western world. Come what may, in Muslim cultures it will continue to be sex-segregated toilets

F H Mughal

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Re: Sex-Segregated Toilets

What about the khwaja sara (third gender) in Pakistan?

But overall, this is a bit of a non-topic as toilet cubicles are inherently gender-neutral and you can just add some male-only urinals in a separate place, to make the cueing time for everyone (regardless of gender) a bit shorter.

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Re: Sex-Segregated Toilets

Thanks for bringing up this topic F H Mughal. The impact of sex-segregated toilets and transgender rights to access public toilets is something that WaterAid is currently looking at -

WaterAid conducted a literature review, which looked at what currently exists in the literature on the connection between LGBTI issues and sanitation. The paper was presented at the WEDC conference 2017, here is a link to the full paper: wedc-knowledge.lboro.ac.uk/resources/con...40/Benjamin-2649.pdf

Our research showed that the issue of transgender access to public toilets is under-addressed in the WASH sector. We also found evidence of transgender individual's facing abuse and harassment when attempting to access both male and female public toilets, amongst other challenges.

'...the challenges that transgender and intersex people face to accessing public toilets should be seen as a violation of several human rights, including the right to sanitation, the right to privacy and the right not to be discriminated against.'

from a blog post on the same topic: washmatters.wateraid.org/blog/sanitation...ng-beyond-the-binary

At WaterAid UK we have introduced gender-neutral toilets washmatters.wateraid.org/blog/toilets-fo...in-our-london-office
Gender-neutral toilets require adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management, in whatever form is culturally appropriate, in every cubicle.

But the gender-neutral option is not to be recommend in all contexts:
'...gaining popularity in Western countries is gender-neutral toilets, where people can access all toilets irrespective of their gender. This option is not recommended, however, in contexts and places where it may increase the risk of violence against women or transgender people, or where it is deemed culturally inappropriate.'


I would add that gender-neutral toilets and sex-segregated toilets are not the only options, some countries and contexts have been exploring 'third-gender' toilets, this is even happening in schools
'A secondary school in Thailand introduced ‘third gender toilets’, solely for the use of their transgender students, who were facing difficulties including physical and verbal harassment when using the male and female toilets. This measure has reportedly been popular with the transgender students.'
washmatters.wateraid.org/blog/the-rights...-to-go-to-the-toilet

We have found this to be very much a live and pressing issue! It is something we are continuing to learn about and hope to encourage others to do the same.

Connie Benjamin
Knowledge and Network Intern Sanitation
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