Five teenage girls from schools across England have got together to write to the Prime Minister asking for the re-establishment of single-sex toilets in schools, for the privacy, dignity and safety of girls, and to state this unequivocally in the forthcoming trans schools guidance. The girls have used pseudonyms to protect their identities, which we also think sends a strong message about the situation for girls now in schools, that they are too afraid of being ostracised or bullied for holding gender-critical views. We publish their letter unedited here.
Dear Rishi Sunak
Single-sex facilities are an essential safeguarding feature, however we – five girls in secondary school – are concerned that this matter may be overlooked in the upcoming schools transgender guidance in place of a recommendation for a mixture of single-sex and mixed-sex toilets. If this is the case, it will severely lessen the safeguards set in place to protect girls and will place many at risk. We urge the Prime Minister, as the father of two young daughters, to ensure our rights are upheld in the upcoming schools transgender guidance.
Secondary school can be an incredibly turbulent time for girls – our bodies are changing, the social relationships between boys are girls are different, and we may not feel entirely uncomfortable with everything happening to and around us. This can be an extremely distressing time, and single-sex spaces such as toilets can be a place for us to deal with stress in a private environment – but when you introduce the opposite sex into the equation, any dignity we retain is immediately obliterated.
Periods, for instance, are something that solely girls experience at school. When dealing with menstruation, girls must have private spaces where we can sort this out with dignity, away from potential shaming from boys and the humiliation of having everyone know you’re on your period. However, boys continue to mock girls for menstruating, and this isn’t going to change until we start providing private single-sex toilets where we can deal with this away from boys.
In addition to this, there has been a significant lack of consultation with students when implementing mixed-sex toilets into schools. Most of the changes to school toilets were made between 2015 and the present day, when trans activism was at its peak, and usually during holidays with no consultation. As a result of this, the students who are now forced to use mixed-sex toilets didn’t even have a choice on whether or not this is the case, and it’s very clear that the majority are not happy with the current conditions.
A Sex Matters poll from July 2022 showed that a staggering 98% of UK respondents, especially women and girls, felt that single-sex spaces were important to them. However, female students are rarely asked for our views when deciding upon policies that affect us, and the results of this lack of communication are clear as daylight in our schools – students, girls especially, constantly attempt to avoid using mixed-sex toilets, finding it awkward and uncomfortable getting partially undressed in the vicinity of teenage boys.
At one of our schools, there have been multiple complaints from students – for instance, at a student council meeting, the pupils grouped together to ask for change; the boys explaining they found the feminine hygiene products “disgusting”, and the girls stating they felt afraid and upset being forced to use the same toilets as the boys, which have gaps at the top and bottom. However, the school refused to change anything, and to this day, half the toilets in that specific school remain mixed-sex. In another school, one of us started an online petition asking for single-sex spaces, however the petition, once reaching 12,800 signatures, was deleted by Change.org.
As well as this, safety is a constantly overlooked issue when providing mixed-sex rather than single-sex toilets in schools. The individuals who oversee these changes usually do so with the aim of being inclusive and equal – however, as we know from the recent example of three girls being sexually assaulted in mixed-sex toilets in Essex, this is anything but “inclusive” and “equal”. Mixed-sex toilets put girls at risk, since any space which has partially undressed girls in the vicinity of teenage boys is a disaster waiting to happen.
A Times investigation in 2018 showed the vast majority of reported occurrences of sexual assault, harassment, and voyeurism occurred in mixed-sex spaces rather than single-sex ones, and this has been the case in every investigation of its kind. Mixed-sex toilets are intimidating, humiliating, and downright dangerous – a school in Southampton even had protests over how boys attempt to photograph the girls if there are gaps at the top of bottom of the mixed-sex toilet stalls, kicking in the doors to film them. In many schools, girls are so uncomfortable with having to use the toilets there that they simply don’t go at school, risking a urinary tract infection.
As it is, there are already not enough toilets in many English schools, and by rendering them even more inaccessible due to them being mixed-sex, significant pressure is placed on students. Having a mix of single-sex and mixed-sex toilets only exacerbates the problems already raised, and it is not good enough for the government to fence-sit and watch on as students lose more and more of their hard-won single-sex spaces to activists who implement a mix of single-sex and mixed-sex facilities. There is no justifiable reason to introduce dangerous and uncomfortable spaces into schools, and the Government has a duty to ensure that toilets in schools are safe and dignified.
All of this – the safeguarding failures, the student backlash, the lack of dignity for girls – should clearly show that the right course of action when dealing with mixed-sex toilets at school is to remove them completely. There is no good reason to maintain a system that constantly places female students at a disadvantage, especially when it risks their physical safety as well. We urge the Prime Minister to specify that mixed-sex toilets do not belong anywhere in schools, due to the fact they do nothing but cast half the student’s rights down the drain.