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03 June 2006

Toilet troubles queue up

The queue for the ladies toilet

Until recently I would have been a bit surprised to find myself commenting on ladies toilets but with three young girls I find myself in situations that are perhaps foreign territory to many blokes.

One of the girls was in a ballet show tonight and aged 4 I went to take her to the toilet. Being in a high school, there was no disabled toilet. More correctly, there was no unisex toilet since clearly many people with disabilities could use a normal toilet and many people (especially with children) often use the so called disabled toilet. Since the ballet show comprised about 500 girls and no boys you can imagine the ladies toilets were running at full capacity.

So I waited outside when she went, hoping that this time there wouldn't be another disaster with her turning on the taps and managing to flood the floor and in the process using up all the paper towels trying to mop it up. Such are the problems when you're a bloke, your daughter needs the toilet and there's no unisex facility readily available.

The queuing made me think - every building design I've ever seen has identical size and capacity for the gents and ladies toilets. Yet, women on average take twice as long and go more frequently. Moreover in many public places such as shopping centres, women make up at least 2/3 of the customers. It doesn't take a Mensa member to work out that if women are in the toilet twice as long and use them more often and there's more of them in a particular place that they are more likely to encounter queues. To counter this, the female toilets need to be about twice the size. So if the typical blokes toilet has two urinals and two cubicles, the typical female toilet should need around 8 cubicles to ensure that women are just as unlikely as men to have to queue.

So why is this not the case and why do women often have to queue? Are all the people who do building regulation design all men? Have they never noticed that on a Saturday afternoon at the shops women are having to wait but there's no queue in the gents? Try a major music event and the problem's even worse.

However, why do we obsess with having male and female toilets at all? The division simply creates inflexibility. Like waiting in the post office queue and finding tellers 1-10 are only serving blokes today and tellers 11-20 are for women. The disabled or unisex toilets are used by both men and women and society as we know it hasn't ended, so why not just create more unisex toilets and dispense with the gents and ladies altogether? That would create flexibility and flush the queues down the pan.

It would also solve the problem of the woeful amount of unisex (sorry, disabled) toilet space. For example, Asda Walmart in Livingston Scotland is one of the biggest stores in the UK at 100,000 square feet. Yet, they have only one family toilet. Fairly incredible for a store group that wins the Tommys child friendly awards. Try telling that to your children who are about to wet the floor while they wait for the one available toilet a bloke can legally take a 4 year old into. Never mind also the fact that the store lift is the size of the proverbial postage stamp and you can't get a double buggy in it (nor can you lift a double buggy with two sleeping children in it up a flight of stairs very easily).

Would the person who devises these ridiculous arrangements for women's and family toilets please take note because this bloke is getting fed up waiting for three girls to go every time he's out and about.

Bog standard is no good. Flush it away and wipe the slate clean with something that's flush for the job, eh! (had to get some toilet humour in somewhere!).

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