Unisex bathroom guidelines met with anger

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Although the drafted guidelines on socio-educational inclusion in South African schools have not yet been made public, they have already been met with strong opposition, criticism, and anger.

The National Department of Basic Education (DBE) has been attempting to clarify that the guidelines are still being discussed and would only be published in 2023, when it will be made available for public comment.

Bloemfontein Courant spoke to various parties to find out what they think of the proposed guidelines.

A concerned parent, Cilla Fourie, says on the UFS campus there are separate bathrooms for transgender students. “I feel that if you can’t get past the unisex bathrooms, a third bathroom should instead be built or provided for people who identify with it. It’s not fair to violate the privacy of children who identify as female or male by sharing bathrooms – the safety risk is simply too high.”

A mother of two teenage daughters feels that as a parent, she does not agree with the unisex bathrooms at all. “What might hatch there… probably teen pregnancies etc. and what about the poor girls who need privacy in the bathrooms? It will be total chaos. Sorry, if there is a petition I will sign it immediately!” says Caroline Kruger.

Nishana Willson, a teacher at one of the schools in the city, says as much as she’s an advocate for equality, inclusivity, and people owning their true selves, she does believe that introducing unisex bathrooms in schools is a step in the wrong direction.

“I say this because I believe that learners of schoolgoing age are not mature enough to understand the issues of sexuality and everything that goes with it. I think that members of the LGBTQIA+ community have been marginalised for a very long time and they’re experiencing intense bullying daily. I think introducing unisex bathrooms might even intensify it. Unisex bathrooms in tertiary institutions and workplaces might be a better bet. I don’t believe that children are ready to take that step, especially in South Africa where there is so much inequality and where some schools don’t even have normal bathrooms.”

According to the Free State Rainbow Seeds’ Teddy Mhlambi, the organisation feels that unisex bathrooms in schools address multiple issues, such as combating bullying of LGBTQIA+ learners, providing safety in numbers, eliminating victimisation and providing a sense of inclusion and some sort of familiarity, as it is already something that is being practiced at home. As an LGBTQIA+ organisation, they deal with a lot of cases of IPV, corrective rape, bullying, sodomy, and molestation and they stand by the unisex bathrooms from a safety perspective.

“We do have a concern of new arising social ills, yet we cannot use that to deny the rights to safety and access to such spaces for our community. I believe the proposal is very beneficial where teaching school kids values, moral capacity, and most importantly, consent is concerned,” says Mhlambi.

According to the Free State DBE’s Howard Ndaba, this matter is still being processed. “It is undergoing consultation with various stakeholders. We will pronounce our views once the current consultations are concluded.”

Justine Fortuin
justine@mahareng.co.za