Valentina Gomes dos Santos discusses the implementation of unisex toilets
In recent times, modern society has experienced new issues and concerns that led to the development of civil rights and changes in the social structure.
The growth of the feminist movement, expansion of LGBT* rights, creation of women and domestic violence legislation, freedom of speech and sexuality are topics that have been discussed and drawn attention to. Alongside that, public institutions have been trying to keep up and actually implement these changes in other spaces. One of them being the existence of unisex toilets, sometimes seen in parks and on the street, but not so common in other public spaces – until now.
In the beginning of the 2000’s, primary and secondary schools all over Britain started to build unisex toilets, together with big companies and start-ups in the world, but until today, that is still a polemic matter. Apart from the economical and practical benefits of having a unisex toilet, there is a lot of moral background in this situation – as toilets have always been seen as something rather private and gender-divided – which has generated an ample debate.
Unisex toilets are indeed a great alternative for transgender, transsexual and even homosexual people, who at first didn’t feel comfortable on either of gender divided toilets, or didn’t even know which one to use. But as in every place, there are good and bad intentioned people. So, while it is a progressive, inclusive and interesting idea, it might also be a place for sexual harassment. In fact, according to a study held by YouGov, 56% of British women feel uncomfortable in unisex toilets, and more than 45% of American and French women feel the same way. On the other hand, 64% of British men feel comfortable, and the same happens with 59% American and 65% French men.
“According to a study held by YouGov, 56% of British women feel uncomfortable in unisex toilets, and more than 45% of American and French women feel the same way.”
What is the deal with unisex toilets then? Should we extend the idea? Where is the fine line between freedom for everyone despite of their gender, and another place where woman feel intimidated and vulnerable?
Recently, PUC (Pontíficia Universidade Católica), a Brazilian catholic university, built unisex toilets and the national media has been all over it ever since. Considering that there are people who are in favour and against the idea, I decided to interview a few colleagues to understand better both sides of this debate.
The 1st year International Relations student Bruna Sandrini thinks that the unisex toilet is a great idea, specifically when it comes to incorporate the well-being of trans students at the University. Also, she has never witnessed nor known about any harassment situation. “I think it’s important to carry out the idea of unisex toilets until it becomes something natural. Although this is impracticable without a better understanding of the population, because many people are still afraid and uncomfortable, and this is comprehensible, but I can see a lot of benefits coming from it overall”, said the Brazilian student. Another 1st year student, Melina Mayrink, reported she doesn’t feel completely comfortable walking into the toilet with men, but that is a cultural matter as she has always used gender divided toilets.
Moving from Brazil to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Political Science student at Sciences Po in France, Luísa Machado says that the unisex toilets have been all over the university campus in Poitiers since its construction in 2001 and that people see it as something ordinary.
“I think it’s important to carry out the idea of unisex toilets until it becomes something natural”
In a utopic society, where people respect each other in all the ways, I would have to look for another topic to write about, because different genders dividing a private space such as a toilet wouldn’t be subject to discussions. However, as long as women continue to fear and suffer harassment and transgender, transsexual and homosexual people still face prejudice and aggression, it is necessary to discuss and comprehend what are the consequences of implementing a unisex toilet: a thin line between freedom and fear. Unfortunately, the cause and solution for transphobia, homophobia and sexism depend on the way society thinks and behave towards others, and to solve that we need much more than just a toilet.