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In recent times, the issue of gender neutral or unisex toilets has come up frequently in the US. But what about in India? Here's why they are important.
In recent times, the issue of gender-neutral or unisex toilets has come up frequently in the US. But what about in India? It is not common to see such toilets in Indian public spaces. However, unisex toilets are important to consider since there is a large transgender population in India, many of whom are children.
To start with, who is a transgender person? This is someone who identifies with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. For those who have a birth certificate, the assigned gender is the one given on the birth certificate. Transgender people face quite a lot of discrimination around the world, and their rights are somewhat ambiguous in India, despite it being legal for them to change their name and gender on official documents.
Some people (who may or may not identify as transgender) do not identify as either male or female. Such people are generally called non-binary (that is, not identifying with either of the two binary genders, male and female) and within India they are often referred to as third gender individuals.
Transgender and third gender individuals often experience a feeling called dysphoria, which is a feeling of disconnect between their body or the way they are perceived socially, and the gender that they identify with. For example, a transgender woman might feel dysphoria if she is referred to as “he”.
Why is all of this important and what does it have to do with gender neutral toilets? Well, transgender and third gender people often feel dysphoria when they use the washroom that does not correspond to the gender they identify as. Dysphoria can often be debilitating, and can lead to depression and anxiety. There are, however, things that we as a society can do to reduce dysphoria in transgender and third gender people. Studies have shown that rates of suicide among transgender people drop when they are given access to facilities that match the gender they identify with. One way of providing such facilities is to have gender neutral toilets, or at least transgender-inclusive toilets, in public spaces.
In some spaces, it is feasible to have more than two toilets. In this case, the third toilet is often a disability-friendly toilet. This is good not only for transgender and third gender people and people with disabilities, but also for parents who might need to take their small opposite gender children to the bathroom, and for older people who may need to be assisted by someone who happens to be of the opposite gender.
Not every public space has the capacity for a third washroom. Many parts of India struggle with even basic sanitation. Are gender-neutral bathrooms really that important considering that such problems also exist?
Yes. This study showed that dysphoria is one cause of open defecation since people who do not have access to a bathroom that they feel comfortable in may have no other choice. The study also shows that there are transgender organisations that are actually helping to bring in public toilets in areas where there are none at all, and are making sure that they are gender neutral.
Another issue that often comes up is that women may not feel safe in gender neutral toilets due to the presence of men. (Note: trans women are women, and have just as much of a right to use women’s toilets as cis women do. When discussing this issue, people often get mixed up with this point.) Three sets of washrooms (or, at least, three toilets) are a possible solution. Another solution, which I have seen being used in India, is to have a larger cubicle that contains both a WC and a urinal, allowing anyone using the toilet to choose the facility that is most convenient for them.
A different problem is that having trans or non-binary use a separate washroom from other people immediately makes them a target for violence or harassment, especially in a place like India where social acceptance is still far away.
So each type of option has its pros and cons. Binary segregated toilets don’t have an option for non-binary/third gender people. Separate washrooms for non-binary people make them a target for violence. Having just one toilet for everyone would make women feel unsafe since men are sharing their toilets. And having a larger cubicle with both a urinal and WC may be prohibitively expensive.
But here’s the thing. This 2014 Supreme Court ruling makes it mandatory for public spaces to provide adequate washroom facilities for transgender and third gender people. I don’t know a lot of places that follow this rule, but they should, not just to abide by the law, but also to make a significant section of the population feel more comfortable and to make public spaces more accessible to them.
So far, we have not been able to come up with a perfect solution. We as a society must brainstorm to come up with other options for gender neutral toilets. But if you are in charge of a public space, here are some steps you can take:
If you can afford to, include both a urinal and WC in the same cubicle.
Include a gender-neutral disability-friendly toilet. Not only does this reduce the risk of harassment for non-binary people who use this facility, it has the bonus of making that public space more accessible for people with disabilities. This can also double as a space in which people can breastfeed their babies, in cases where it is not feasible to provide a separate nursing room.
Do take inputs from any trans or non-binary people who might give you suggestions on how to improve your washroom arrangement. Many of these suggestions may not be feasible for you, but hear them out anyway with an open mind.
Finally, whether you are in charge of a public space or not: if you see someone in a toilet in which you think they should not be, don’t tell them that. They know who they are best.
Arya. Teenager. Madcap book lover. Writer and poet. Feminist. Dog lover. Professional procrastinator. read more...
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Before expecting the daughter in law to love, respect and accept the new family, it is only fair that the family demonstrates all of these first.
If you are a married Indian woman, one of the first words you hear from your in laws is that you are now a daughter of the house. How true is that statement though? Are daughters in law really treated as daughters or is this only lip service?
A friend recently confided how hurt she felt when she wanted to visit her in-laws along with her husband but was told not to, because the in-laws wanted time alone with their son. Naturally, she was taken aback since she had always been fed this trope – that she was the daughter, not the daughter in law. Why then this sudden keeping at arm’s distance? Would a son in law ever be told not to accompany his wife on her visit to her parents because they wanted quality time with their daughter? That is unimaginable in a patriarchal society.
It is ok to want time alone with the married offspring but how does that meld into the Indian family system, where independent choices are less important than the whole family coming together?
Beauty is a very clever, very evil capitalist tool. It traps those who have it into hanging on to it for dear life and those who don't into mutilating, torturing themselves to achieve the unachievable.
I recently wrote a piece about MP Shashi Tharoor’s tweet in which he had shared a pic with six women parliamentarians tagging them and saying “Who says the Lok Sabha isn’t an attractive place to work?”
There was a rash of comments on the post shared on Instagram, which ranged from “chill, it’s just a compliment” and “stop overthinking compliments”, to (worried) men lamenting about “these feminazi”.
Here’s my answer to all those comments.
Demi Lovato came out as non binary recently. Let's take this moment to talk about what it means, and normalise all gender identities for our trans and non-binary siblings.
Demi Lovato came out as non binary recently. Let’s take this moment to talk about what it means, and normalise all gender identities for our trans and non binary siblings.
Pop star and actor Demi Lovato came out as gender non-binary through a series of heartfelt tweets. They shared that moving forward they would officially be using the pronouns they/them, and that they’re sharing this with their audience, opening up to another layer of vulnerability.
As our favourite celebrities and also often friends, families and neighbours search for a safe space to live their truths openly and proudly, does it not become our duty to engage in conversations and speak up for our non binary siblings?
While the silence around women and periods is slowly being broken, there is still an absolute lack of awareness around men who bleed. Here's a call for more empathy towards trans men and their problems with menstruation.
While the silence around women and periods is slowly being broken, there is still an absolute lack of awareness around men who bleed. Here’s a call for more empathy towards trans men and their problems with menstruation.
Menstruation is considered a taboo in India and we often see that there is a lack of discussion regarding this subject. What is appalling is that there are educated people whose belief-system still doesn’t allow them to talk about this issue. Periods are stigmatised to to the extent that many women are deprived of their rights on account of menstruation. Here we are talking about women who go through this stigma but there are other people to consider too: People who identify themselves as Female-to-Male or FTM, i.e. those who are born biologically female but later realize that they identify as men. It is then that they start to face difficulties and sometimes, an identity crisis too.
Menstruation is so heavily associated with the ‘woman’s body’ and her health that it results in horrifying trans exclusion and neglect by a large section of the world. There is an added layer of social shame for trans men who menstruate, as they need to hide their periods from society. According to Transfaith, a transgender faith and spirituality organization, 36% of non-binary people have refused to seek health care out of fear of facing discrimination. There are many trans men who are diagnosed with dysphoria, which is a clinical term for the experience of having strong and persistent feelings of identification with a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth, and discomfort with your assigned sex.