Toilet provision: consultation response

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government launched a consultation over toilet provision for men and women. This is Labour Women’s Declaration’s response:

1. The key points in the call for evidence

“[T]here needs to be proper provision of gender-specific toilets for both men and women, with a clear steer in building standards guidance” We would be in full agreement with this statement if the word ‘sex’ were used rather than ‘gender’, as this term is undefined and generally conflated with ‘gender identity’, the claimed non-observable, non-testable, sense of being a man or woman despite one’s biology indicating otherwise. ‘Sex’ is the protected characteristic, and we want to see single-sex provision as a matter of right.
“The Equality Act provides that sex, age, disability and gender reassignment are protected characteristics. This does not mean that gender-specific toilets should be replaced with gender-neutral toilets. But there should be balanced consideration of how the needs of all those with protected characteristics should be considered, based on the mix of the population and customer demand.” We could not agree more with this statement and regard it as key to the provision of facilities in a respectful and considerate manner.

2. Gender-neutral toilets

As stated in the call for evidence, where existing provision is re-labelled as gender neutral (meaning ‘open to anyone’), women are placed at a significant disadvantage. Men then have access not only to all the cubicles but also to the urinals, whereas women, already disadvantaged in terms of the number of available facilities, now have to share their cubicles with men.
Many women are deeply uncomfortable using facilities where they may be observed by men, or vulnerable to men’s comments or inappropriate actions. Being heard using the lavatory can be a source of serious embarrassment, most particularly when men are present. Additionally, the specific female needs noted in point 3. require a space not available to men.
This discomfort and embarrassment is very much magnified in the case of adolescent girls contending with adolescent boys. Toilets are often a space for girls to meet, put on make-up, discuss the problems of menstruation, and, most importantly, get away from harassment by boys and older males. Gender neutral/open to anyone facilities reduce not only girls’ sense of safety, but their actual objective safety.
Quite a large number of men suffer from bladder shyness and may find it difficult to micturate with women around.
The Equality Act 2010, Schedule 3, Part 7, Paragraph 27, sets out conditions under which single and separate sex exceptions can apply. Among these is condition 6b:
“the circumstances are such that a person of one sex might reasonably object to the presence of a person of the opposite sex.” This applies to the provision of single-sex toilet provision.

3. Specific female needs

It is well-known that women are far more likely than men to suffer from urinary incontinence, as well as needing provision to manage menstruation. Waiting in a queue is an excruciating experience for a woman suffering from urinary incontinence.
Menstruating women may need to use washbasins in open areas to wash mooncups, rinse out stained underwear, or to wash bloody hands. These needs can only be properly addressed by sex-specific toilets or totally contained units where the washbasin is included inside a cubicle with walls fully enclosing the space, from floor to ceiling.
This discomfort and embarrassment is very much magnified in the case of adolescent girls contending with adolescent boys. Toilets are often a space for girls to meet, put on make-up, discuss the problems of menstruation, and, most importantly, get away from harassment by boys and older males. Gender neutral/open to anyone facilities reduce not only girls’ sense of safety, but their actual objective safety.

4. Ratio of female to male toilets

It has often been assumed that providing the same floor space for male toilets as for female toilets means that there is equal provision. This is very far from the case.
Firstly, of course, male urinals take up less space than cubicles and so more men can be provided for in the same space.
Secondly, women need longer in a cubicle than men need at a urinal, given the much greater clothing removal required.
It is generally estimated that there need to be 50% more female toilets (cubicles) than male (urinals plus cubicles).

5. Accessible toilets and gender neutral toilets

Progress has been made over recent decades in the provision of genuinely accessible toilets for people with various disabilities and needs. This is greatly to be welcomed. It is, however, the case that there are still not enough facilities useable and well set-up for all who require it, to allow for a very wide range of needs that cannot be accommodated in general lavatory provision.
The suggestion in some quarters that such facilities should be promoted as available to those who are trans-identified, and not wishing to use/objecting to toilets provided by sex (regarding ‘gender identity’ as the defining feature), is deeply concerning. There is good reason to include, where space permits, a gender neutral/open to all toilet area in addition to male, female and disabled facilities, and it is to be hoped that new public access buildings will build such provision in as a matter of course. It must not be conflated with accessible/Changing Places toilets.
Where, for reasons of size and space, there is limited toilet provision that cannot be differentiated into male, female, open to all, and disabled access, a single toilet area must be created of cubicles containing washbasins and with floor to ceiling divisions, with perhaps a gap under the door so that it can be identified if someone has collapsed. There should be one providing enough space for a carer to help a disabled person as well as accessible to wheelchair users..

6. Public sector equality duty

The PSED is part of the Equality Act 2010. It has three main elements, each of which need to be considered in the provision of toilets.
The first element, the duty to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation etc, requires provision that takes account of the needs of people according to sex (and in this context particularly women), sexual orientation, those covered by pregnancy and maternity, age, disability, race, religion and belief, age, marriage and civil partnership and those for whom the category of ‘gender reassignment’ applies, as well as the other protected characteristics .
Protection for religion and belief requires single-sex provision for, particularly, Orthodox Jews and Muslims. Provision by self-identified ‘gender’ or solely with gender neutral/open to anyone toilets means that such people, particularly women, will be unable to use public toilet provision.
The protection for pregnancy and maternity requires both that women’s toilets are suitable and that either within women’s toilets or in an accessible toilet there is space and equipment to enable baby-changing. While not covered by this provision, it is to be hoped that such space, where available within a women’s toilet area, is also available for men who may be caring for a baby.
Much of the above also relates to the second point, to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it. Provision that is inadequate for women, for particular religious groups, etc is not advancing equality of opportunity and may in fact be reinstating the ‘urinary leash’ meaning that members of such groups are unable to go far from home.
The third point is the requirement to foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it. One of the particular problems that has arisen through the conversion of so many toilets to ‘gender neutral’, or where there has been insistence that the toilets are provided for a ‘gender’ rather than a sex, is that women have become anxious and hostile to anyone who might be a man in what had previously been single-sex provision. This not only has created tension between women (protected characteristic of sex) and transwomen (protected characteristic of gender reassignment), but has also led to potential conflict between some women and those women, particularly lesbians (protected characteristic of sexual orientation), with what is perceived as a more masculine appearance. Thus it is clear that converting many toilets to gender neutral/open to anyone provision has worked against the requirement to foster good relations.

7. Provision of public toilets by local authorities

Since 2010, there has been a steady reduction in the grant income from central government to local government, a 38% reduction between 2009-10 and 2018-19. As there are also caps on how much county, district, borough and unitary authorities can increase their council tax precept, in many areas where there are parish councils, they are being asked to take on the management and maintenance of public toilets in their areas, previously provided by a district council.
This entails raising parish precept, which some small parish councils are most reluctant to do. Also, many parish councils do not have more than one or two employees (the parish clerk and perhaps one other) and may be daunted by the obligations of employing cleaning and maintenance staff to run public toilets. and, as a result, in some areas there is a chance that existing toilets will be closed. Those living in such areas are seriously concerned about potential closures. Serious consideration needs to be given to national funding for such public provision.

8. An international human rights issue

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals cover the need for separate toilets for women and girls explicitly at 6.2, which includes the key phrase “paying special attention to the needs of women and girls”. It would indeed be shameful if the UK lagged behind the ambitions of the UN for provision internationally, or, rather, rolled back on the provision that has existed until the relatively recent move toward gender neutral provision.

REFERENCES

Clara Greed Expert exposition on the requirements for public toilets for women

Nowhere to Go. Includes an excellent range of resources concerning toilet provision for those with disabilities

Climacteric. The prevalence of urinary incontinence

Fair Play for Women. Toilets and changing rooms

 

LWD Responds to WESC Inquiry on GRA Reform

 

Members of Parliament on the House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Select Committee are currently holding an inquiry into reform of the Gender Recognition Act. According to the committee, the inquiry is designed to examine the government’s proposals for change to the gender recognition process, ‘gathering evidence on whether the proposed changes to GRA2004 are the right ones and whether they go far enough’.  As part of its inquiry, the committee is holding a number of in-person evidence sessions and has also sought written views. 

The Labour Women’s Declaration working group is among a range of organisations which have submitted written evidence. This has now been published by the committee and you can read the full document here. The key points in our submission are: 

  • Considerable problems arise through confusion of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ in the GRA 
  • Equality monitoring and discharge of the Public Sector Equality Duty are compromised by the confusion of these terms
  • Accurate guidance concerning the provision of single-sex services is urgently needed 
  • As a result of these confusions and inaccurate guidance, self-declaration of identity as a woman or man has become the de facto norm, acceptance of which is assumed by many to be a legal requirement; women’s sex-based rights are damaged by this acceptance
  • Vulnerability, potential dangers, religious belief and discrimination are among the reasons why single-sex provision is required 
  • Undefined terms such as non-binary and gender-fluid cannot be the basis for law, and any problems arising from non-conformity to stereotypes is better addressed via existing law
  • The Scottish Government’s proposed Gender Recognition Reform Bill does not offer a suitable alternative to reforming the GRA 

 

LWD Webinar Video Now Available

We are pleased to announce that the video of our webinar held on 20th 0ctober 2020 is now available to watch on our YouTube channel.  Click on the link below.

Labour Women’s Declaration – Standing up for women’s rights in the Labour Party

We have also uploaded transcripts of speeches.  Please click on the links below.

How 50 years of women’s liberation led to the Labour Women’s Declaration

LWD reflect on a year of the women’s movement

A Materialist Feminist Perspective on Women’s Rights

How we can help you at constituency level

Labour Women’s Declaration Cymru – An overview of grassroots organising in Wales 

 

 

Joint statement on Govt responsibility to uphold women’s sex-based rights

Labour Women’s Declaration is proud to stand in solidarity with the women who have campaigned for women’s sex-based rights across political parties and in the wider women’s liberation movement.

Together with the women of  Woman’s Place UK, FiLia, Fair Play for Women, the Institute of Feminist Thought, Women Uniting, SNP Women’s Pledge, WEP Women’s Sex-Based Rights Caucus, Green Feminists, the Conservative Women’s Pledge, and the Liberal Democrats Sex-Based Rights Declaration we call on the government to ensure that women everywhere benefit in everyday life from the provisions made in the Equality Act 2010 to counter sexism and violence against women and girls, particularly with respect to single-sex spaces and services for women and girls. We know that this matters greatly to women, and we will continue to fight for women’s sex-based rights.

We welcome this week’s announcement by the Minister for Women and Equalities. We are pleased that she has struck a balance between improving the process for obtaining a GRC for trans people and restating the importance of women’s sex-based rights. All of our campaigning has been clear that we want everyone to be able to live their life free from harassment or discrimination. Women have worked hard to have our voices heard on issues that affect us. We are pleased that the Minister has listened. She has made clear that the law enables single-sex services and protections for women on the basis of biological sex. We call on the Minister to make a clear statement about the operation of the single sex exceptions under the Equality Act 2010 and how they interact with the GRA 2004. We also call on her to make sure all guidance from the EHRC to service providers, commissioners and employers is a clear and accurate reflection of the law. The same principle should apply to guidance to courts, other public authorities and media. It is clear that too many women are being obstructed from accessing the services and support we need by the ignorance or intransigence of organisations which need to know the law better.

Woman’s Place UK

FiLia

Fairplay For Women

The Institue Of Feminist thought

Women’s Equality Party Sex-Based Rights Caucus 

Labour Party Labour Women’s Declaration 

SNP Women’s pledge

Green Feminists Women & Girls Sex-based rights Declaration

Conservative Party  CUP Women’s Pledge

Liberal Democrats  Women’s Sex-based rights Declaration

 

 

Labour Peers speak up for women

Today’s urgent questions in the House of Lords saw three Labour Peers, speak up for women. Lord Triesman, Lord Young of Norwood Green and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath all expressed their satisfaction that the government has responded sensibly to the GRA consultation. Lord Triesman spoke out against the vilification of women such as JK Rowling who express the view that women’s rights can be exercised on the basis of biological sex, while Lord Young and Lord Hunt  pressed the government on the question of what guidance it will issue to ensure organisations  understand and implement existing law in relation to the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act. Many organisations and institutions have already changed their policies and practices in anticipation of  legal changes and on advice that misinterprets the law, so it is crucial that the government acts to clarify how the exemptions can be applied and properly enforced.

We applaud our Labour Peers Lord Hunt, Lord Young (both signatories of Labour Women’s Declaration) and Lord Triesman for speaking up. Women especially lesbians have pushed hard for their voices to be heard. The Lords have clearly listened. That the Lords are speaking creates a space for others – especially Labour MPs who have been notably silent on women’s rights and the right for women to speak about issues around sex-based rights. They also create a space for the Labour Party to move forward and open up the respectful dialogue between gender identity campaigners and advocates for women’s sex-based rights that is much needed.

Click on the links below to hear their full commentary and questions

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

Lord Young of Norwood Green

Lord Triesman

Thank you Marsha De Cordova

“What will the Minister do to ensure that all public bodies including the Government Equality Office and the Equality & Human Rights Commission produce statutory guidance which is in keeping with the legislation?”

Sincere thanks to Marsha De Cordova,  Labour Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, for asking this crucial question in support of Labour’s 2019 manifesto pledge “Ensure that the single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision”

To watch Marsha De Cordova’s full commentary and questions, follow this link.