The government recently issued a call for evidence on public toilet provision in England., which closed on the 26th February. The scope of the consultation was described as follows:
Women often have to face excessive queues for toilets or don’t have access to appropriate facilities that meet their needs when out. In some cases this can mean women are reluctant to go out or take trips that many take for granted.
Over recent years there has also been a trend towards replacing female only facilities with gender neutral toilets. The review aims to address this by considering the ratio of female toilets needed versus the number for men, given the need for women to always use cubicles.
It would also take into account the needs of all members of the community, to ensure there is a fair provision of accessible and gender-neutral toilets.
The review will also look at signage, which should be clearer and use gender-specific language, to avoid confusion.
SSAUK have responded with reference to the impact of changes to toilet provision in schools. You can read our submission below.
Toilets in schools
Safe Schools Alliance U.K. is a grassroots group of parents, grandparents, teachers, governors, psychologists and other health and educational specialists with an interest in the safety and well-being of children. We are from all over the UK, we are from a wide range of backgrounds and have no religious or political affiliation. We work with individual parents and a wide range of other groups to ensure the effective safeguarding of all children.
Safe Schools Alliance is of the view that there needs to be proper provision of SEX-specific toilets for both men (adult human males)/ boys (male children) and women (adult human females)/ girls (female children) with a clear steer in building standards guidance. There must also be clear provision made for disabled people, including room for those who need carers and family changing for those accompanied by infants/children.
The guidance must be unambiguous, with clear language used. Everybody must agree on the meaning of words used. There must be no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation that undermines safeguarding. We are therefore very concerned to see this consultation use ambiguous language such as “The review will also look at signage, which should be clearer and use gender-specific language, to avoid confusion.” and “The government’s position is also of the view that there needs to be proper provision of gender-specific toilets for both men and women, with a clear steer in building standards guidance.”
The government needs to be absolutely clear here what it means by the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. It also needs to take transparent steps to ensure that everybody using the guidance is interpreting them in the same way. Safe Schools Alliance is quite clear that ‘gender neutral’ in fact means ‘mixed-sex’, which presents safeguarding issues for both women and children. Signage should be SEX specific i.e. male and female, not gender specific. There is no need to separate toilets on the grounds of gender (a social construct), and indeed it would be impossible to do this given the variable numbers of genders that some people believe there to be. Toilets should be separated on the basis of SEX (material reality) for reasons of safety, privacy & dignity.
A failure to clearly distinguish between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ has lead to situations in the NHS where women’s safety, dignity and privacy has been compromised:
It is imperative that the government does not repeat these mistakes with the toilets guidance.
Further details can be found on Twitter regarding the conflation of sex and gender in the NHS and the damage and confusion it has caused, and in articles such as this one exploring the impact of the NHS decision to abandon sex in favour of gender.
Parents’ concerns about toilet provision
Safe Schools Alliance are largely concerned with the provision of toilets in schools. Suitable provision that preserves the safety, dignity and privacy of all children is a common concern from parents and their children.
We have resources on our website to assist parents, such as a factsheet on the laws and regulations on single sex toilet provision, and a template letter about toilet provision to assist parents in communicating with schools.
We have also published, with permission, this letter from a parent who successfully challenged the introduction of ‘gender-neutral’ toilets in her children’s school with our assistance.
These popular resources have been downloaded hundreds of times. It is an issue of great concern to parents and children. Schools are keen to get this right and are in need of clear guidance from government.
We have supported legal action against ‘trans-inclusion’ toolkits which have undermined all students rights to single sex facilities. Many of these toolkits have now been withdrawn.
We also supported legal action against the CPS’s school pack, produced in conjunction with Stonewall, which told girls they may be charged with a hate crime if they object to males in the women’s toilets. This pack has also now been permanently withdrawn. We will continue to campaign on the importance of safeguarding, single sex facilities and the importance of correct interpretation of the Equality Act. We will support children and their parents wishing to take legal action.
Our expertise on toilets is largely centred around facilities in schools, so that is what we will be commenting on. However a lot of these principles will extend to wider society.
Toilet provision in schools
Facilities must be separated by sex and not gender. We have heard from the parents of children of both sexes that they have felt violated when being forced into mixed sex spaces under the guise of ‘gender-neutral’, or spaces being segregated by gender and not sex.
We have heard from the mother of a teenage boy who was deeply uncomfortable at the fact a ‘trans boy’ (a biologically female child) has been allowed into the communal changing room with him at school. In addition, we have heard countless stories of girls not drinking, holding onto urine or not changing sanitary protection, such was the embarrassment of having to share facilities with boys.
There must also be privacy from the opposite sex around sinks/basins. Girls dealing with periods for the first time may have menstrual blood on their hands. Girls are also often embarrassed if boys hear the rustling from changing sanitary pads/tampon, and report being verbally bullied over this.
Safety in schools
All reasonable steps must be taken to ensure the safety of children in the toilets of their sex. This will include schools having robust anti-bullying and sexual harassment policies (sexual harassment and the fear of, disproportionately impacts on girls’ schooling) which are properly implemented. All children must be safe, feel safe and have their privacy and dignity maintained.
Cubicles must be secure enough that children feel safe but care must be taken not to inadvertently provide a locked room that could be used for sexual activity, (whether consensual or abusive), bullying, substance abuse, misuse or distribution or any other illegal or anti-social activity.
Girls are disproportionately impacted by sexual activity i.e. pregnancy, abortion and STDs. Becoming pregnant underage is a serious safeguarding concern; becoming a young mother will seriously impact on the life chances of both mother and child. On average one rape a day is reported in U.K. schools. Obviously not all rapes are reported and there will be a far greater number of sexual assaults.
How many toilets are needed?
There must be sufficient facilities for disabled students to be able to access toilets without delay at all times. If any pupil is experiencing distress with regards to their sex/gender to such an extent that using their correct sex facilities would be traumatic for them (gender dysphoria) then this is a disability and they would be able to use the disabled facilities. However, it is imperative that this does not result in existing disabled children within a school having reduced access to toilets. Schools must carry out impact assessments to ensure they have enough single cubicle, unisex provision available for those pupils requiring them.
The number of toilets should be provided according to need, not just x number for each sex as females require more toilets per head to achieve equity. Research has shown that the number of female toilets needed may be double that of males. Gender neutral toilets are not a solution as women and girls tend to self exclude from them, placing them at yet further disadvantage. It will also require more space per person allocated to female toilets as women and girls will always require a cubicle whereas some males may be happy to use urinals.