Sometimes the topic of bathroom segregation comes up in my office – we work on a variety of buildings with varying needs and accessibility and diversity policies. I have heard resistance to change expressed, not always in complimentary or logical terms, but I really like the way that more progressive firms and institutions (universities are especially good at this) are making changes that allow inclusivity and convenience for as many people as possible.

Current students of the University of Manchester were invited to provide their opinions on the new engineering campus development, and one of the topics for discussion is what the toilet arrangements should be like. I’m hugely in favour of the set-up in the Students Union, which has one large toilet with cubicles only, that people of any gender can use. There are also larger accessible toilets at ground floor level. If people wish to use gender-specific bathrooms, ‘male’ and ‘female’ toilets are available on the upper levels of the building, just off of a central core.

We also covered cultural considerations, like how overseas students may react to a Western loo. It might seem like an odd thing to think, and you might cry ‘discrimination’ at face value – but the fact is that there are a lot of international students in Manchester (this is good!), and there is huge variation in toilet type and etiquette across the world. Two of the more common ones I’ve heard about are that in some cultures it’s more usual to squat over the toilet (by standing on the seat) rather than sitting down, and that some places have less robust plumbing systems so used toilet paper would go in a bin rather than down the loo (ick). In most places that I’ve worked, this problem is gotten round by displaying polite notices on how to use the facilities. It’s clear that they’re not aimed at any person or group in particular, and it’s far better than the alternative, which I encountered in one office that I worked in.

There were literally (several) emails sent around the office asking people to not pee all over the floor in the toilets. In addition to that, people had to be advised how to correctly use a sink and dishwasher. It’s like as soon as people step outside of their own homes, they forget how a kitchen and bathroom are supposed to operate. Not sure how much better it would have worked out if the issues had been pre-empted, but it is pretty astonishing that it even got that far in the first place. It was even to the point that the ladies loo was protected by an access code, not for reasons of safety and privacy, but because the Wanton Widdler decided to have a go in the ladies as well! The office was about 95% male, so there was a good chance that it was a bloke, but I really don’t think that dirty behaviour is actually gender specific. That’s one stereotype that I’ve heard trotted out time and time again, and it needs to stop. The lock did seem to stop the culprit, though.

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