Inclusivity in the Washroom

Published:  10 July, 2017

Managing Director at Washware Essentials, Paul Thorn, discusses the importance of making toilet facilities accessible to everyone.

The modern shopping centre caters to customers of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities and faiths. Plurality within our society is, of course, something to be welcomed - nevertheless, it can make matters a little complicated when it comes to things like planning toilet facilities.

We’ve already started waking up to the importance of making shopping centres more accessible for customers with disabilities; but when it comes to accommodating women, transgender people and people of faith, we still have a long way to go. In this article, we’ll examine the new challenges facing shopping centre washroom design, and try to venture some ways in which they can be overcome.

Ladies first

Perhaps the most pressing issue is the fact that traditional public toilets have failed to adequately meet the needs of female users. The basic problem is that women take longer to use toilet facilities, primarily for reasons of biology: women pee sitting down, which means time-saving urinals are out of the question; they tend to have smaller bladders, meaning they need to use the toilet more often; and, unlike men, they have menstruation to deal with. Women’s clothing (such as tights, leggings and so on) also tends to be more restrictive and cumbersome to remove, meaning the whole process of using the bathroom takes longer.

Yet despite all this, men’s and women’s bathrooms are almost always equal in size, with the same number of stalls, the natural consequence of which is long queues for the ladies’ toilets; this is such a common problem that it’s almost taken for granted. Not surprisingly, there been calls in recent years to redress this all-too-common gender imbalance.

Various methods have been proposed to establish so-called ‘potty parity’, including female urinals and larger women’s bathrooms - and while both of these approaches have their merits, the most equitable solution may also be the most radical: unisex bathrooms.

Gender neutral

The widespread use of unisex toilet facilities would not only put men and women on a level pegging, but also be a huge boon to the transgender community. Deciding which bathroom to use is something that most of us don’t even have to think about - but for transgender people, it can be a huge source of distress, with many facing verbal and physical abuse over their choice of washroom.

Unisex bathrooms also makes good commercial sense - after all, just think of the square footage that would be freed up by a single, larger washroom that accommodates all genders.

The Muslim pound

Britain is a hugely diverse and multicultural nation, meaning that every day, your shopping centre will be visited by customers from a variety of faiths and creeds - all of which have different approaches to using the bathroom. For instance, in some schools of Islamic thought, it is considered improper for a man to urinate while standing up. While Muslim men are generally happy to use stalls for this purpose, Muslims of both sexes are required to undertake the ablution ritual of wudu after using the bathroom, as well as in preparation for prayer.

While it is possible to perform wudu using a normal basin, doing so can often be difficult (not to mention embarrassing). Wudu is an essential component of Islamic life and is undertaken by millions of people across the world each day, but in the Western world, provisions for doing so are surprisingly scarce - the issue of inadequate wudu facilities has even made the headlines in recent years. Accordingly, you may wish to install wudu washing facilities in your shopping centre, especially if you cater to a large number of Muslim customers.

Making shopping centres more accessible to Muslims isn’t just morally commendable; it’s also great for business. Retailers are only just beginning to tap into the purchasing power of British Muslims; the fact that Muslims make up almost 5% of the UK population makes them a market that modern shopping centres can no longer afford to ignore.

More generally, many cultures - not just in the Middle East, but also parts of Europe, Africa, South East Asia - use squat toilets. They may be unfamiliar (if not downright terrifying) to the average native Brit, but installing one in your shopping centre can help make it a more welcoming place to people from cultures where squat toilets are the norm - and the fact that they’re extremely cheap to purchase and install means that doing so won’t leave you out of pocket.

Pleasing everyone?

If the ‘Twitterstorms’ and grassroots social activism of the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that businesses who fail to respond to the needs of marginalised groups often end up paying dearly for their inaction. But while it’s important that shopping centres keep up with the times, we’re not saying that you should immediately rush out and replace all of your toilet facilities with squat loos and unisex bathrooms.

However, by making these facilities available in addition to traditional loos, you will not only enhance your customer experience and position yourself as a forward-thinking organisation, but also ultimately bring in more custom - which, surely, is a win-win situation for all concerned.

As the Managing Director at Washware Essentials, Paul Thorn has worked with shopping centres up and down the country to help them find their ideal washrooms.

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