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Women need twice as many public washrooms as men, new report says

Women need twice as many public washrooms as men: U.K. report
WATCH: Women need twice as many public washrooms as men: U.K. report

If you’ve ever anxiously waited in line for a women’s washroom while watching men filter in and out of their respective stalls, you’re not alone.

A new U.K. report argued there should be two female toilets to every male one, adding the lack of public toilets is a threat to women’s health and equality.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) report said women need more toilets because “of time-consuming factors related to clothing, menstruation and anatomical differences.”

The report’s authors pointed to “potty parity” — which is defined as equal speed of access to public restrooms — legislation that exists in certain places in the U.S. that recommends a 2:1 toilet ratio in favour of women.

Currently, in the U.K., the standard is 1:1.

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“Equality of access to toilets is an important factor, particularly for women who take longer and cannot use urinals,” the authors wrote. “This leads to the long queues familiar in many public toilets.”

The report, titled Taking the P***, also calls for more gender-neutral washrooms to ensure “equality of access” and to address the needs of transgender individuals.

“Public toilets are no luxury,” Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the RSPH, said in a statement. “It’s high time we begin to see them as basic and essential parts of the community — just like pavements and street lights — that enable people to benefit from and engage with their surroundings.”

Why women need more public washrooms

Recent research out of the University of British Columbia on potty parity found that because female bathrooms typically have longer wait times than male ones, women do not have equal access.

The researchers wrote that current bathroom codes and designs in business facilities, like restaurants and concert venues, “are not based on objective analyses” and are instead influenced by male bias.

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Another U.S. report on potty parity found that “most public restrooms still remain woefully inadequate for women’s special needs” which include menstruation, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

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According to Kathryn Anthony, a professor of architecture at the University of Illinois who co-authored the report, a lack of female washrooms is a “subtle but powerful form of gender discrimination.”

“The message to females is, ‘We don’t care about you; your needs don’t matter,'” Anthony told Global News.

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“Just last Sunday at a public restroom in Central Park in New York City… I saw a huge line for the ladies’ room, with girls and women of all ages, plus some young boys with their mothers, lots of little kids in strollers, and yet absolutely no line for the men’s rooms. Why should they and their mothers have to wait, while their fathers do not?”

But it’s not just women who need more washrooms.

The U.K. report also states that a lack of toilets also hurts those who are ill or living with a disability, the elderly, outdoor workers and people experiencing homelessness.

Researchers also concluded that there’s simply not enough public toilets — period. The report found that 74 per cent of people surveyed agreed there are not enough public washrooms in places like parks, tourist areas, public transit stations and shopping malls.

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Repercussions of not having enough washrooms

When there’s not enough toilets available, people are deterred from leaving their homes or venturing far away from a known bathroom, meaning they are on a “loo leash,” the report said.

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“Most of us need a public toilet occasionally, but this is a more urgent problem for those with medications or medical conditions causing increased frequency of the need for a toilet (such as diabetes, or bladder, bowel or prostate conditions),” the report said.

“In addition to diagnosed conditions, advancing age increases the need, as does the requirement for [diaper] changing and young children who can’t wait.”

The report found that 20 per cent of people did not leave their homes as often as they would like because of bathroom access. For those with medical conditions requiring frequent toilet use, 43 per cent said they stayed close to home to be near a washroom.

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What’s more, authors found that 56 per cent of respondents deliberately restrict their fluid intake in case they can’t find a bathroom. This can lead to dehydration, the authors noted, which can harm health and make existing medical conditions worse.

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Does Canada have enough public washrooms?

The lack of public washrooms is an issue in Canada, too, as advocates say we still have a long way to go.

In Winnipeg, “pop-up” public toilets opened in an effort to address the city’s lack of free washrooms.

Edmonton Mayer Don Iveson said in April that the city needs to partner with businesses, the hospitality industry in particular, to find a sustainable solution to the demand for public bathrooms.

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In an attempt to combat sanitation issues in Montreal, the city invested $3 million to install 12 high-tech, self-cleaning, free-to-use public bathrooms.

While public free-standing bathrooms are common in Europe, advocates say most Canadian cities lag behind when it comes to meeting a basic human need.

Toronto has three automated self-cleaning toilets, while Vancouver does slightly better with 11, according to an online map produced by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.

Other cities, including Edmonton, publish a map of the bathrooms that are available in parks, libraries, and train stations, but many don’t operate year-round or at night.

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— With a file from Karen Bartko and files from the Canadian Press 

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca