An unexpected form of gender discrimination

Today the word discrimination is almost a swear word and any form of it is absolutely taboo. Without much thought most of us could name a number of kinds of discrimination which were fairly common. In fact, they were accepted, in many areas of life, as the norm but now we all have to be very careful and aware of any possibility of discriminating against anyone. Off the top of my head I can think of gender, race, religious, sexual orientation, age, physical size and physical or mental disabilities, all of which have at some time or other made the headlines in South Africa.

I ended my previous blog saying that there has been research done to show that the layout and availability of ablutions in public buildings often discriminate against women. How can this be? They are on the same floor, usually next door to the Gents, and so just as accessible. What can make them discriminatory?

In her paper entitled, Expanding the suite of measures of gender-based discrimination: gender differences in ablution facilities in South Africa and published in the SA Journal of Economics and Management Science (Vol 15, No.2, Pretoria 2012), Prof Renier Steyn wrote, “In this paper the (unequal) distribution of public toilet facilities will be used as a(n) (additional) measure of gender-based discrimination.” I found this a very interesting statement. It really got me thinking. I have not been into the Gents toilets in too many buildings but assume that there are the same number of stalls in the Gents as there are in the Ladies toilets, so I read further to find out what the unequal distribution actually constituted.

Steyn says that unequal access to ablution facilities implies discrimination at three levels – political, psychological schematic and health. Using Steyn’s article as a basis, we can see what is meant by these three levels of discrimination.

Political: The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996) and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948) promote the principle that all people are equal and that all individuals should have equal access to the resources of their countries. In addition to the Constitution, SA has the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Employment Equity Act, both of which speak of gender equity being a requirement. In some places there are inadequate or even no toilets for women and so they consider themselves outsiders to the people of the nation. This may be a difficult concept for those of us who are privileged not to have to use the Gents facility or even ‘the bush’.

Psychological: People see themselves as an extension of their surroundings and also as how others see them. Thus if there is a lack or inferior supply of a commodity which is freely available to others, these people will consider themselves to be of lower value.

Health: Steyn does not mean that toilets are health risk from the point of cleanliness or availability of soap and towels, but rather physical bodily health issues which can arise. As she says, anecdotal information indicates that it is far more likely for queues to form in Ladies’ toilets than in Gents’. This means that women have to wait longer to access toilets and in doing so endure discomfort, can develop urinary infections and distended bladders. In addition, women are more likely to be accompanied by children than are men and this adds to the waiting time for other women. Anthony and Dufresne (2009) suggest three measures: equal square footage, an equal number of toilets, or equal waiting time. On consideration it was agreed that equal waiting time should determine the allocation of toilets without gender discrimination.

In this blog I have referred to just the opening paragraphs of Prof Steyn’s article although I have read it all. It is quite interesting in the area of gender discrimination and one which I had not thought about before.


1 Comment

  1. So true about women actually being accompanied by children more often than men! How seldom women’s needs seem to be as high a priority. Or people designing things don’t consider how a woman can use them.

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