This House of Lords Library Briefing contains a selection of material relevant for the forthcoming question for short debate on the provision of facilities for women in public buildings on 24 February 2020.Jump to full report >>
Women-only facilities have been subject to debate in recent years. For example, the Royal Society for Public Health, in a report on public toilets, called for “equality of access to toilets”, noting this was important “particularly for women who take longer and cannot use urinals”. This, it added, “leads to the long queues familiar in many public toilets”. The report called for ‘potty parity’ to ensure equality of access, with more unisex toilets, more toilets for women and taking into account the needs of transgender individuals.
Some critics maintain that gender-neutral toilets, and also changing facilities, are more dangerous for women and girls than single-sex facilities. Others have said that while gender-neutral toilets should be commended, labelling single-sex toilets as gender-neutral, even if they contain urinals, may ultimately mean fewer facilities are available for women to use.
A report by Stonewall showed that almost half of trans people asked (48 percent) do not feel comfortable using public toilets. Stonewall defines ‘trans’ as being an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Proponents of more gender-neutral facilities note that gender-neutral toilets can be used by anyone and would stop trans people feeling isolated and distressed about going to the bathroom.
The issue of toilets in public buildings was subject to a series of parliamentary questions tabled by Lord Lucas. He asked about changes to toilet facilities in the Department of Education’s London offices to make them unisex. The Government responded that changes were to “make the office environment as inclusive as possible” noting visitors who do not wish to use, or may feel uncomfortable using gender-neutral facilities, are able to use other toilets in the building.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination, for example in employment or the provision of public services, on the basis of protected characteristics that include age, disability, sex, and gender reassignment. However, the Act allows providers to offer single-sex services in permitted circumstances. It also outlines the limited circumstances where gender reassignment discrimination might be permissible, but it must be a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim.
Lords Library notes LLN-2020-0056
Author: Heather Evennett
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