Unisex Toilets in China: the Debate

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Editor’s Note

This is our translation of an article that originally appeared on the China News website on November the 10th. The article discusses the issue of unisex toilets, a number of which have recently been opened in Chinese cities.

The first unisex public toilet in Shanghai is expected to open in late November. These sorts of toilets have recently appeared in a number of Chinese cities, including Chongqing, Qingdao and Beijing. What do unisex toilets look like, and why are they built? We have carried out an investigative report to answer these questions.

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The first unisex public toilet in Shanghai

Recently the media reported that the first unisex public toilet had been opened in Shanghai. It is reported to include six cubicles with a sitting toilet and four with a squatting toilet, as well as some with male urinals.

What is the difference between this unisex public toilet and an ordinary one? Jiang Ruizhi, from the Technology and Science Information Department of the Shanghai Municipal Environmental Quality Monitoring Center, explains that in this toilet each cubicle has a larger area, and when people walk in they can see from the door if someone is inside a cubicle. Moreover the dividers between the cubicles are over 2.3 meters high, and there are no gaps between the dividers and the ground.

“There is staff on service to manage the toilet so that people’s security and privacy can be guaranteed, unless someone decides to engage in extreme forms of odious behaviour like premeditated voyeurism”, explains Jiang Ruizhi. In addition the toilets are also equipped with other features. For instance, music is constantly played in order to cover up embarrassing noises.

What is the point of building unisex toilets? Jiang says that building the first unisex public toilet is a pilot test to see if public resources can be allocated more reasonably. The aim is to decrease the probability of long queues in front of ladies’ restrooms.

As he points out, it is very common to see long lines of women waiting to use the toilet. According to statistics from the World Toilet Organization, on average people go to the toilet six to eight times a day. It takes women an average of 70 to 75 seconds to conduct their business, while for men the average is 30 to 35 second. Besides, the frequency with which women go to the toilet is 1.5 times that of men.

According to some media reports, it is expected that unisex public toilets will account for 20% to 30% of all public toilets in Shanghai’s city centre in the future. Jiang Ruizhi claims however that this statement is inaccurate. This first toilet is only a test, and whether there will be more unisex toilets depends on the performance of the trial and the feedback from the public. The various neighbourhood’s public toilet construction plans and their specific service objectives will also be taken into account.

Beijing’s gender-friendly toilets

While the first unisex public toilet is being put to use in Shanghai, several unisex toilets have also emerged in Beijing, where they come under the name of “gender-friendly toilets”.

The gender-friendly toilet project in Beijing was initiated by the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute. According to the project manager Yang Gang, the original idea came from the embarrassment of a male friend who liked dressing as a woman. The project is also motivated by the problems particular groups of people may face in this area. For instance, it is awkward for a parent to take a child of the opposite sex to go to the toilet.

In Beijing, gender-friendly toilets have been put to use in more than thirty organisations, including UNDP’s Beijing office and Café Zarah. Unlike the open design in Shanghai however, gender-friendly toilets in Beijing are usually reconstructed from ordinary ones and closer to the original. The internal facilities are not significantly changed, and a sign saying “gender-friendly toilet” is just stuck on the door.

Are gender-friendly toilets impractical? Yang Gang responds that gender friendly toilets are currently in their initial stage, and still awaiting feedback from different sectors. In fact, what he wants is to make more people know about the concept of gender-friendly toilets. He says: “I think this project can promote the advancement of social attitudes.”

One of the project’s participants, the manager of Café Zarah Zhang Lin, talked about the reasons for opening gender-friendly toilets. On the one hand, gender-friendly toilets are a sign of social progress and are able to meet the needs of their customers. On the other hand, they can also promote the development of social attitudes. “In practice, most of our customers do not refuse to use gender-friendly toilets, and some of them have even directly shown their support”, Zhang Lin says.

Build them or scrap them? The debate on unisex toilets

Unisex toilets have actually had a long history and have been used in many countries. In China they have also appeared in other cities apart from Beijing and Shanghai.

It is reported that unisex toilets were built in Shenyang and Chongqing in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Most of them are mobile and environmentally-friendly toilets. Furthermore the first “third party bathroom”, in other words a unisex toilet, was opened in Qingdao this year. The design of “the third party bathroom” pays more attention to its level of practicality and comfort, with baby care units, sitting toilets for children and barrier-free facilities, in order to meet people’s special needs.

According to this journalist’s understanding, the initial aim of opening unisex toilets in different cities is to address the problem of women facing long queues to use the toilets, especially in scenic spots, shopping malls and other crowded places.

In China, unisex toilets are still a new thing that has not been completely accepted by the public. Therefore it is normal that the topic should arouse some controversy when it pops up again and again in the media.

Many people think unisex toilets should be abandoned. They argue that some people might be afraid to enter them, and this might result in a waste of space and a lack of privacy and security. They also believe that many people will feel embarrassed due to the habits of the opposite sex, such as the noises they make when they are using the toilets.

On the other hand, its supporters consider the unisex toilet to be a sign of humanity and progress, which can effectively solve the problem of long queues in front of female toilets. At the same time, it can also avoid the embarrassment of those who have to accompany children and elderly people of the opposite sex to a public toilet.

According to what some experts claim, the building of unisex toilets is a way of addressing an issue in  public service, and also a way to advocate for a social ideal. New problems may arise when it is tried, and it might eventually be replaced by other, better solutions. It is however still meaningful in that it provides more possibilities for our society, and it should be given the time and space to succeed.

资料图:上海首座无性别公厕。

资料图:上海首座无性别公厕。

日前,上海建市内首座无性别公厕,预计将于11月下旬投入使用,此举也让“无性别厕所”话题再度受到关注。记者注意到,近年来,沈阳、重庆、青岛、北京等地均出现了无性别厕所。那么,这些厕所长什么样,为何要建此类厕所?中新网记者进行了调查采访。

上海首座无性别公厕下旬启用 为减少女性如厕排队

没有性别限制、敞开式的设计……日前,有媒体曝光了上海首座无性别公厕。报道称,该座无性别公厕有6个座便隔间、4个蹲便隔间,另外还有男性小便间。

该公厕有何不同?日前,上海市市容环境质量监测中心科技信息科蒋瑞志在接受中新网记者采访时介绍,该公厕的隔间面积较普通公厕更大,进入隔间后,门板上会提醒其他如厕者“里面有人”。同时,隔间之间设计了高达2.30米以上的挡板,隔间下方的缝隙也将封死。

“公厕也有专门人员进行管理,市民如厕的安全和隐私是可保障的,除非遇到蓄意偷窥等极端恶劣的行为。”蒋瑞志表示,公厕还有一些人性化的设施,诸如,会一直播放音乐,避免如厕时所出现的声音尴尬。

为何建立此类公厕?对此,蒋瑞志表示,建首座无性别公厕,这是一次对合理配置公厕资源的试点,旨在减少女性如厕排队的情况。

如其所言,女性如厕排队问题在生活中确实常见。根椐世界厕所组织统计,每人每天上厕所6-8次,女性如厕时间平均70秒-75秒,男性如厕时间平均30秒-35秒,女性如厕频率大概是男性的1.5倍。

此外,有媒体报道,“预计未来上海无性别厕所将占中心城区所有公厕的25%至30%。”对此,蒋瑞志回应,这样的说法不准确,当前只是一个试点,未来拓展与否将根据公厕的试运行情况,实时跟踪,视市民的接受程度,并结合各区公厕新建改建计划和服务群体,再具体决定是否进一步拓展。

北京多个机构设性别友善厕所 发起者:冀推动社会观念进步

在上海,首座无性别公厕即将投入使用。在另一座大城市北京,今年来也出现了一批无性别厕所,这些厕所有个特殊的名称,叫“性别友善厕所”。

据了解,北京的性别友善厕所活动项目是由北京一家NGO机构——北京纪安德咨询中心发起的。该项目主管杨刚介绍,设置性别友善厕所的初衷,源自一个喜欢穿女装的男性朋友所遭遇的如厕尴尬,同时,也是因为联想到了一些特殊人群的如厕问题,诸如父母带异性子女在商场如厕会遭遇尴尬等。

杨刚透露,目前,北京有30多个机构都设立了性别友善厕所,诸如联合国开发计划署北京办公室、Cafe Zarah咖啡馆等。不过,不同于上海敞开式的设计,北京这类无性别厕所较“原始”,多在原有男女通用的厕所的基础上稍加改造,内部设施并未有大的改变,只是在厕所门口多挂了一个贴有“性别友善厕所”的标志。

目前厕所的实用性不强?对于这一质疑,杨刚回应称,当前的性别友善厕所还在起步阶段,还会根据相关方面的意见反馈来进行改进。其实,更希望大家先了解“性别友善”这一概念。“我认为此举可推动社会观念的进步。”杨刚说。

项目的参与者、Cafe Zarah咖啡店经理张林表示,店里之所以设立性别友善厕所,首先,是考虑到此举能体现人性化的服务,能更好地满足更多客人的需求;其次,也考虑到这样的做法对推动社会观念进步有意义。“现实中,客人对设立该厕所并不反感,一些客人也明确表示支持。”张林说。

废还是立? 无性别厕所争议不断

其实,“无性别厕所”这一概念由来已久,在国外,许多国家都已有实践。在国内,除了上海、北京这两大城市,其他一些城市也有尝试。

据媒体报道,沈阳和重庆分别在2013年和2015年增设“无性别公厕”,该类公厕均以移动式环保公厕为主。此外,今年,青岛首个“第三方”卫生间投入使用,即无性别卫生间。据了解,该卫生间在设计上更注重实用性和舒适度,配有母婴护理台、幼儿坐便器、无障碍设施等各种设施设备,贴心满足如厕人员的特殊需求。

记者梳理发现,一些城市设立无性别厕所的初衷,都意在解决男女厕位比例不合理的问题,尤其在景区、商场等一些人员密集区,常见女厕门口排起长队,男厕厕位还有空余的情况。

在很多人看来,无性别厕所还只是个新鲜事物。因此,当它频频见诸媒体时,争议不断便不足为奇。

关于无性别厕所,“废”还是“立”的争议就一直不断。有许多人认为该废除无性别厕所,“市民不敢进”、“此举会造成空间资源浪费”、“个人隐私和安全会成问题”等,这是他们所持的一些观点。此外,他们也认为,如厕时,许多人会对异性使用习惯或者意外事件所带来的小尴尬感到别扭,诸如如厕时的声音尴尬。

但也有支持者力挺,认为无性别厕所的建设,是一项人性化的服务,能有效解决女性如厕排长队问题。同时,也会避免父母带异性子女或者老人如厕遇到尴尬。

有专家分析,建无性别厕所,是一种公共服务的解决方案,也是一种社会理念的倡导。也许在尝试的过程中,会有更多新问题,也许最终会被更好的方式所取代,但无性别厕所,为社会提供了更多的可能性,不妨多给一点时间和空间。

Translated by Huang Jie

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