By John Ensor •
Published: 24 Jul 2023 • 22:54
Credit: John Arehart/Shutterstock.com
Gender-neutral public toilets in Finland have not proved a hit with everyone, hence in some places, they have reverted back to separate facilities for men and women.
The Equality Act in Finland was amended in 2015 in order to prevent discrimination based on gender, gender identity, and gender expression. It also saw a rapid increase in unisex toilets, a trend which for various reasons has not gone down well with everyone, writes YLE, Monday, July 24.
Just some of the reasons people find unisex toilets uncomfortable include shyness, modesty, a sense of insecurity and messiness, and not necessarily in that order.
One clear example of this is the Rewell shopping centre in Vaasa. Motivated by inclusivity and the practical need to save space, they introduced gender-neutral toilets about six years ago.
Complaints soon followed however, mainly from women, and so just less than a year ago the company listened to their customers and reverted back to traditional male and female toilets.
Speaking from professional experience, Hanno Airas, CEO of Novosan, whose company specialise in public toilets, expanded further on the subject.
He said that a surprising number of people suffer from shy bladder, and are embarrassed by restroom noises, they can also experience feelings of shame and insecurity.
Another important consideration is that of different cultures and nationalities. And for some people, gender-neutral restrooms can present challenges from a religious perspective.
Airas was not afraid to talk about the more personal side of the issue: ‘If there are only stalls in the restroom, they can be quite messy. Some men are accustomed to using urinals while standing, and now that they use stalls standing up, urine may splash onto the toilet seat. This quickly creates a very dirty feeling.’
The issue is a complex one, as Päivi Lehto of the Equality Ombudsman explains that occasionally individuals belonging to gender minorities have been denied the use of facilities that align with their identity.
‘At the moment, we have very limited legislation that takes gender diversity into account in gender-segregated spaces and services. The Equality Ombudsman has to assess individual situations on a case-by-case basis.’
This issue has proven to be so problematic that the matter was brought to the attention of parliament, with a recommendation that the law should explicitly address how gender diversity is approached in dressing and sanitation facilities.
The majority of people whose gender is unquestioned struggle to appreciate the challenges that gender minority individuals face on a daily basis.
Lehto added: ‘The positive aspect of unisex facilities is that one’s gender doesn’t have to be defined at the restroom door, potentially avoiding negative attention.’
There are some ingenious solutions to making unisex facilities more comfortable. One way is to provide good sound insulation within restroom stalls, as sounds within public conveniences can be embarrassing for some. Background music in the restroom can also be used to help mask these sounds.
Airas had the final word: ‘If we want unisex restrooms, we must consider the perspectives of everyone: children, young people, people from different nationalities, religions, genders, and ages. Suddenly, what seemed like a simple issue becomes very complex.’
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
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