Women are losing access to public toilets ‘by stealth’ amid a boom in gender-neutral loos, say experts
- Women have long complained that they have had fewer toilet stalls than men
- Old Vic theatre in London faced backlash in 2019 when it made its toilets unisex
- Campaigners say the result is an even greater reduction in options for women
Women are losing access to public toilets ‘by stealth’ amid a boom in gender-neutral lavatories, experts say.
The Government has now launched a consultation into the provision of loos after decades of service inequality.
Women have long complained that they have had fewer stalls than men, but the issue has been ignored. In the meantime the number of council-maintained public conveniences has fallen by 13 per cent over the last decade, with cash-strapped local authorities turning facilities into gender-neutral spaces to save money.
Campaigners say the result is an even greater reduction in options for women, longer queues and the embarrassment of having to walk past men at a urinal to get to their cubicle. Conservative MP Jackie Doyle-Price, co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on women’s health, said it was ‘astonishing’ that there was a fight to preserve women’s toilets in the 21st Century.
‘Gender-neutral toilets are a real retrograde step for women and should only be provided where it would be impractical to offer separate facilities’ (file image)
She said ‘women are losing these facilities by stealth’, adding: ‘It is quite reasonable for women to want their own toilet facilities away from men.
‘For a start, men’s toilets smell worse than ours.
‘Gender-neutral toilets are a real retrograde step for women and should only be provided where it would be impractical to offer separate facilities.’
At least 673 council-run sites across the UK were shut between 2010 and 2018, leaving just 4,486. Raymond Martin, of the British Toilet Association, said the rise in gender-neutral spaces has hit women. He added that in the past floor space was simply divided in two, so women had ‘four stalls but the men get three stalls and four urinals’.
Women have long complained that they have had fewer stalls than men, but the issue has been ignored (file image)
Lezlie Lowe, author of No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs, added: ‘We should not look for equality… but equity, which takes into account that women take longer to use the toilet than men do.’
The Old Vic theatre in London faced a backlash in 2019 when it made its toilets unisex, leaving women with 24 facilities and men 42. Dr Clara Greed, professor of urban planning at the University of West England, said: ‘Expecting women to mix with men increases the queuing and is also very off-putting. While there might be a need for gender-neutral toilets, this should be done in addition to, and not at the expense of, women’s toilet provision.’
A consultation by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government runs until February 26. Tory peer Lord Lucas, who has campaigned on the issue, said without proper toilet provision ‘access to the world is severely restricted’.
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