Inclusive sanitary facilities

Inclusive sanitary facilitiesHave you noticed? The toilets at Ghent University are mixed-gender. From now on, anyone can use any stall.

The Department of Infrastructure and Facility Management (DGFB) has formulated prescriptions in its future guidelines for the inclusive design of sanitary facilities in new construction and major renovations. This means that the toilets are mixed and fully accessible to all its students and employees. The layout, dimensions, signage, preferential surface area, accessibility, price tag and technical HVAC challenges are considered. Universal Design and sustainability are the starting points here. You can discover the first results of these Design guidelines in the buildings on the Dunantlaan,  Technicum, UFO and De Sterre.

 What do we mean by inclusive sanitary facilities?

With inclusive toilets, the emphasis is on functionality, not on the user. It doesn't matter who the toilets are for, but what they are for. 

We have become very accustomed to a certain layout of toilets in public spaces. We find it normal that men and women use a different toilet, that (heavy) lock doors are used, that only trash cans, changing tables and mirrors are present in the women's block, ... But what is normal for one person, is for another a great effort and adjustment on a daily basis. Many invisible groups often experience a great inconvenience to visit a toilet. Just think of people with disabilities or gender-diverse people or people with other cultural customs. Inclusive sanitairy facilities are integrally accessibleGhent University strives to provide at least one adapted toilet for wheelchair users in every building, near the elevator. The aim is to have automatic doors, a free turning space and the presence of devices that can be reached from a seated position.The most accessible route for wheelchair users is mapped out on these floor plans. You will also find information about wheelchair accessible lifts and adapted sanitary facilities here. 

Inclusive sanitary facilities are gender sensitive

Ghent University strives for sanitary facilities where not only men and women, but also gender-diverse people can feel comfortable and safe. Gender-inclusive toilets are mixed toilets where everyone regardless of sex and gender can use any cubicle. Gender-diverse individuals or individuals whose appearance does not match the restroom they wish to enter, often receive comments. Because of the discomfort and a feeling of insecurity, they therefore avoid going to the toilet. This can lead to bladder problems or constipation. Gender-inclusive toilets ensure that gender no longer matters to anyone.

Inclusive sanitary facilities are culturally sensitive

Ghent University is committed to international mobility. It is important to furnish the toilets with a focus on functionality and not on the user. Toilet use differs greatly from country to country. The western toilet as we know it, consists of a seat and a toilet seat. However, many Asian countries have a squat toilet. In Europe we mainly use toilet paper, but in some countries a water tap is used as a hygiene measure. Where necessary, Ghent University can focus on raising awareness with functional pictograms. After all, toilet use is not the same everywhere in the world, but every person is entitled to daily toilet use. We also ensure that the technology used also passes the inclusivity test. For example, a soap or disinfectant dispenser that only dispenses soap or gel when the infrared light detects a white skin color is unacceptable. 

What does the law say?

For staff: separate toilets

With regard to sanitary facilities for employees, we come across very explicit regulations (CODEX Art. III.1 – 57), which state that toilets for men and women must be strictly separated. The labor regulations prescribe that there must be at least 1 toilet per 15 men and 1 per 15 women, separated from each other and near the workplace, rest area or changing room. Ghent University must therefore offer separate toilets for its employees. In practice, this often concerns the sanitary blocks on the floors of a building, where most office spaces are located. However, the Constitutional Court confirmed in its June 2019 judgment that the legislator must take into account persons who do not fall into one of the two traditional gender categories (male or female) or persons who move between them. In Belgium there is a prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of sex, including gender identity, in both the Flemish and federal anti-discrimination rules. People in transition, intersex people, people with a non-binary gender identity, gender non-conforming or gender fluid people often have problems with the M/F division in the sanitary facilities. They are often implicitly forced to use the toilet of their (socially desirable) biological sex and therefore avoid going to the toilet. Ghent University can do little to change the obligation for separate toilets for staff. But the good news is that there are no regulations for the incorrect use of men's or women's toilets.

For students and visitors: mixed toilets

The legal obligations regarding separate toilet areas for men and women do not apply to the sanitary student facilities, nor to the visitor toilets. In the absence of regulation in these situations, the principle of freedom of choice exists to organize things as one sees fit, with the prohibition of discrimination as the limit. Ghent University therefore opts for inclusive accessible sanitary facilities for its students and visitors. In practice, this means that the sanitary blocks on the ground floor of a building are mixed. Everyone can use any toilet cubicle. And the urinal areas are placed in a visually shielded zone. This scenario follows the advice of the building committee.Students or visitors who still like to use separate men's and women's toilets can still use the unrenovated blocks on campus in the coming years.

What changes will I notice?

  • Extra walls are placed in large sanitary blocks to screen off the urinal zone.
  • The binary male-female icons are replaced by the acronym 'WC' and by the icons of a sit-down toilet and a urinal.
  • Multilingual people with limited knowledge of the Dutch language also immediately know what it is about.
  • Mirrors are hung in the original men's blocks and sanitary boxes (for sanitary towels/tampons) are placed in each toilet cubicle. The cleaning team takes this into account during the collection round.
  • Where possible, doors are installed that open automatically.
  • Floor plan Inclusive toilets

Inclusive sanitary facilities

What are the benefits of inclusive sanitary facilities?

  • Thanks to the shielded zone, there is more privacy for urinal users.
  • Research shows that waiting times are significantly shortened because everyone can use any stall.
  • Mixed toilets ensure that there is more social control (eg from men to men). Mixed toilets increase safety for women, LGBs, trans people and non-binary people. Separate toilets emphasize the danger of transgressive behaviour.
  • Inclusive and integrally accessible toilets have a positive influence on the mental well-being and physical health of certain groups of students and staff.

Relevant research

  • "You're in the Wrong Bathroom!": And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People by Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs:
    “There have been numerous attempts to legislate trans people’s restroom use based on allegations that we are sexually exploitative. These laws are framed not as infringements on the rights of transgender people but as “protection” for women, children, and others. Those in favor of “bathroom bills” argue that trans people are more likely than others to perpetrate physical or sexual violence, or to spy on their neighbours while using the restroom. There is little discussion of the burden imposed on transgender and gender-nonconforming people when they are forced to use bathrooms inconsistent with their genders. In fact, as of 2015, there had been no recorded incidents of anyone trans or gender nonconforming being arrested for sexual misconduct in a bathroom within the United States ever, and trans people are far more likely to be the victim in such settings. Up to 70% of transgender people report having been denied access to restrooms, harassed while using restrooms, or even physically assaulted.”


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