Katherine Evans heads up the gender equity network and women’s support group Bold as Brass. Over the last 18 months the group has focused on inclusive PPE. This year, Bold as Brass is going full throttle into a new campaign, Release The Bogs.
Caitríona Bergin was the head of women’s rugby in Ireland for over 12 years and now chairs the Women In Construction & Quarrying Ireland steering group. She is also seeking a seat in the local elections in North Leitrim next June.
CB: Talking about toilets seems like an odd thing to do, and it isn’t something that we really want to have to do, but here we are. When I worked in the Irish Rugby Football Union as the lead for women’s rugby, the first question I would ask clubs who wanted to establish a women’s team was about their toilets. From the looks I got, they all thought that I was absolutely mad. Now, being involved with Women in Construction & Quarrying Ireland, here I am again, asking about toilets. The response by senior staff, HR or CEOs, usually men, is a smirk and a dismissive “I think that we’ve got that covered!” remark. Unfortunately, from the many stories that I have heard, clearly, we have not.
If you have to lock the women’s toilets on site to keep the men out, you have a bigger issue. Site toilets are clearly not up to standard for ANY of your staff. Let me repeat that: YOU HAVE A TOILET PROBLEM, NOT A STAFF PROBLEM.
So what’s the big deal anyway? Don’t we all need to use the bathroom? We do; however, some people need to use it more frequently and for reasons other than daily ablutions.
KE: Did you know people assigned female at birth need to pee more often than people assigned male at birth? It’s because, in general, the female urethra is shorter. According to studies, women also spend, on average, three times longer using a toilet than men because of cubicle use, clothing, and period management. These are just a few reasons women might need to use the lavs. Many people may not be aware of the bowel, urinary or vaginal symptoms brought on by female reproductive health, pregnancy, birthing, perimenopause, or post-menopause, even the syndromes and diseases that are genderless that result in all people requiring urgent access to a toilet. I’ve found, generally speaking, that people aren’t as open to talking about the inside of the pants as I am, so these issues don’t get much air time at work.
I’ve got another did you know: you can’t hold back a menstrual flow. Seriously, there’s no way to hold it; that’s why it’s important to get to a loo and change your period product when you need to. Otherwise, depending on the day of your period, you could wear your flow until you can change your trousers (and the seat cover you were sat on!).
Having access to hygienic facilities to change your period products and somewhere to wash your hands with soap and water could be the difference between life and death. Reread that if you’re a regular booker of portable welfare. A common bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus, creates a toxin that can cause skin infections, abscesses, respiratory infections, and food poisoning if it gets into the bloodstream. It’s also the SA in MRSA. This S. aureus bacteria is normally found inside the nose and on the skin of approximately a third of the population. so it can be easily transferred. It survives on surfaces like door handles, light switches, and bathroom walls for weeks. This is bad news if you’ve managed to get it on your hands when entering the toilets or moving the 17 pieces of cleaning equipment between you and the loo when you’re about to touch torn, grazed, or split skin.
Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but fatal condition linked to using period products that are too absorbent for the flow of blood exiting the uterus. The insertion and extraction of a tampon or cup against dry vaginal walls can cause micro tears and grazes to the skin.
Vaginal Atrophy is a common symptom of peri- and post-menopause. It causes both painful vaginal and urinary symptoms and is termed genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) in the medical world. The decrease of oestrogen results in the lining of the vaginal walls becoming so thin, dry, and inflamed it simply splits. This is horrendously painful for the sufferer, affecting both internal vagina and external vulva skin. Just the tickle of a badly positioned seam can be enough to create more tears and pain for the sufferer.
The connection between these open gates to the bloodstream and the bacterium that causes sepsis and death must be seen in flashing lights.
Keeping toilets accessible at all times, never locked, never unclean, and never used as a store cupboard could mean you’re saving someone’s life, or at the very least saving them from wearing their bodily fluids (and solids). You may also be increasing the likelihood of retaining them.
When bodily autonomy is taken away from a person by having to ask someone else for permission to use the toilet, the potential for a ‘superior-inferior’ relationship is created. We see many men in management roles in the aggregates industry. Here’s another place where a woman is being made to feel inferior. I’m not clutching at straws here; I’ve felt it numerous times myself, and the online comments to our campaign echo it.
CB: If you have managed to continue reading until now, I can assume that you are a woman or a man who really values his colleagues and those who visit the site, and I commend you. It is not an easy read but an easy fix, so we don’t have to continue with this conversation. Ensure that the toilet facilities you have on-site work for all of your staff, that they are clean and kept clean by all, that they have running water, soap, bins, mirrors, period product disposal bins, and period products, and that they are unlocked and accessible to everyone.