The real reason why unisex toilets quietly get changed back to single-use.
Unisex toilets have been making the headlines for some time now. Their installations make for great journalistic headlines. But do they work long term? We’ll share why not but first some background.
It wasn’t enlightenment, joy and flags of welcome recently in Edinburgh when parents at Mayfield Primary in Midlothian were reported to be up in arms after children returned from the autumn break to find that the toilets had been transformed over the holidays into Unisex. The parents say that they had been ‘caught short’ on this change and it had happened without notice or consultation Some of the children were apparently quite distressed as they didn’t want ‘to go’ in shared washrooms.
Having said that the school have rebutted that the toilets are all floor to ceiling cubicles with a shared wash trough and they felt this was quite enough to ensure privacy and dignity for all children.
It’s been happening for a while
But this is not an isolated incident of parent outrage. Last year in East Renfrewshire Carolside and Braidbar Primaries had new facilities installed over the summer with the removal of urinals and new floor to ceiling cubicles installed. There was a feeling from parents that “Girls, in particular, are likely to feel threatened and some may simply refuse to use the toilets”
We have to comment ourselves at this stage of the argument that floor to ceiling cubicles do seem to be the right thing to do. We’d already be up in arms if it was just a new sign on the door and the same old partitions between toilets. After all, boys will be boys and it has to be said, girls will also be girls. There is possibly little worse than a gang of school-age kids all egging each other on to take part in ‘dares’ and general toilet hilarity. Bodily functions and parts are always a rich seam of materials for the emerging pre-pubescent.
This very issue was what had parents up in arms back in 2014 in East Sussex when the new build school’s new toilets were unveiled as Unisex AND cubicles, albeit locking (Ed: surprisingly locking has to be stated, we assumed ALL toilets would be lockable). And yes, would you feel comfortable with a 5 year old girl using the same facilities as an 11 year old boy?
So that’s the primary children, what about secondary schools? Good grief we’ve got a report here of Unisex toilets with CCTV cameras in Somerset but that seems to be to stem alleged vandalism in the restrooms rather than voyeurism but still not creating a space that respects privacy and dignity. The school did counter that the cubicles again has floor to ceiling walls and doors and indeed some also had integral washbasins – a touch of luxury there and quite different to school toilets back in the freezing cold day.
Up to Manchester and the parental wrath was on the rampage again in 2018 when a new unisex toilet block was unveiled at Little Lever School Apparently it was constructed to assist with quicker lunch breaks and again had the luxury of floor to ceiling cubicles. But we can appreciate the comments of how would a young girl experiencing her first period feel being in a toilet next to a teenage boy?
So it would appear that unisex toilets in education settings isn’t a brand new fad but being introduced steadily across the country. But we haven’t looked at Nurseries yet – where learning starts and education associated habits and behaviours are formed. Is this the key that will filter down in the fullness of time when children progress through nursery with unconscious understanding that toilets are for boys and girls together? Maybe not it would seem as we came across a ‘conversation’ on Mumsnet about pre-school girls complaining about using ‘wet’ toilets. After all, it is a well-recognised fact that some boys can ‘spray’ quite liberally, no matter what age.
But the bottom – excuse the pun – line is; is it a legal requirement to have unisex toilets in schools? Not yet it would seem according to this report in The Scotsman from September. Ye gads! This report says “mixed sex toilets, showers and changing rooms” Now, this is possibly a step too far, even for these enlightened inclusive times. Shared Showers! Doesn’t quite bear (excuse yet another pun) thinking about.
But here is the reality which never makes the headlines. We’ve lost count of the number of unisex installations that have quietly reverted back to designated sex. And it’s quite simple: additional costs
- space to accommodate sanitary bins – all unisex cubicles have to have sanitary bins provided and there is the necessary maintenance contract to go with that.
- hand dryers and/or sundries for each cubicle
- cleaning – we’ve mentioned already that boys and girls, gents and ladies have different toilet behaviour. Urinals haven’t been around for centuries without good reason: they are cost-effective in terms of cleaning as well as space.
It‘s down to simple economics and that’s why Unisex toilets for the majority of venues simply don’t add up.