City desk

Is It Time for a "Potty Parity" Movement in Ireland?

A couple of women wash their hands. Behind them, the stalls are occupied.

But there’s no queue today here at Pygmalion Bar on South William Street – even though there usually is in other places when she goes out with friends at the weekend, says Lindsay O’Donnell.

One night at the Bernard Shaw on South Richmond Street, she squeezed into a cubicle with a friend, thinking it would save time. “We got kicked out because they thought we were taking drugs,” O’Donnell says.

“There should be more bathrooms, and making sure to maintain women’s bathrooms more. Men have urinals. We use more toilet paper,” she says.

But there often are more bathrooms. “We have over double the amount of female toilets versus male toilets,” said Sophie Newman, of the Bernard Shaw.

Building codes recognise that women often take longer for social and physiological reasons. So why is it still so common to have longer queues for women’s bathrooms than men’s?

Bathroom Rules

There is a code of practice the city relies on, when it comes to providing enough – and the right kind of – toilets, a Dublin City Council spokesperson said.

The code applies to installation, design, and maintenance work to the building, according to Kirk McCormack, who is president of the Institute of Designers in Ireland, and a practising architect.

This code, to which Irish building code refers, is British Standard 6465. While pricey to access the full code, parts available online give the general idea.

For example, “restaurants and other places where seating is provided for eating and drinking”, it calls for two W.C.s for up to 150 men, and a urinal for every 60 men; and two W.C.’s for up to 30 women plus one additional one for every 30 women, up to 120.

The question is, how effective is all this for the user? says McCormack. “If it doesn’t work, it’s of lower value.”

At Pygmalion, the women’s have six cubicles, and the men’s have two cubicles and four urinals, says Jhon Loaiza, the supervisor there.

“Most places make the bathrooms the same size and urinals take up less space,” he says. In Pygmalion, the women’s bathrooms are bigger than the men’s.

But it’s still an issue, he says. He still sees huge queues at the weekends.

Potty Parity

What exactly is meant by equality in toilet provision has been debated more elsewhere.

In the United States, there has been a movement where some lobbied for legislation to address the longer lines that often trail out of women’s bathrooms.

That goes back about a decade, says Steven Soifer, professor of social work at the University of Memphis, and co-founder of the American Restroom Association (ARA).

It was started by female legislators in Congress who tired of inadequate bathroom facilities for women, Soifer said.

Elsewhere, women were getting frustrated that at theatres and sporting events, they had to wait in line for the whole intermission and sometimes return to their seats without getting to the front of the bathroom queue. “Out of outrage, a number of feminists began pushing for potty parity,” he says.

Katherine Anthony, professor of architecture at the University of Illinois, says the issue is “equal speed access for men and women, boys and girls”.

“Unisex facilities provide this, or if facilities are segregated by gender then generally more fixtures for women than for men are needed, especially in places of assembly,” said Anthony, who has authored books on gender equality in design.

The design of unisex facilities are key, she said by email. They need to be completely private and open for all to use.

Soifer says transgender rights have added another layer to this issue, as have questions of breast-feeding and changing facilities, and facilities for those with disabilities.

In the Pygmalian bathroom, Marta Zukowska is drying her hands.

It’s usually the same issue back home in Germany, says Zukowska. You have to wait in line a long time.

“Usually, when there’s a long queue, we just go to the men’s and ignore the signs,” she says, laughing.

They’ve been given out to by staff, she says. But the real solution, she says, would simply be adding more women’s bathrooms.

Zuzia Whelan portrait
Zuzia Whelan

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at zwhelan@dublininquirer.com.

 

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