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The Breakthrough Voice 27th June, 2021

Paving One Of Many Ways To Inclusivity – Gender Neutral Spaces.

In recent times, the LBGTQ+ movement has garnered massive support and momentum across the globe. From Thailand passing a bill to legalize same sex union to Scotland adopting a LGTBQ+ inclusive school curriculum, there are endeavours being made worldwide to recognise the rights of these communities and give them equivalent significance to that of the other communities. These are some large, striking advances that are being presented yet have you at any point pondered with regards to how steps are being taken to guarantee basic rights such as safe residential spaces, safe working environment, access to public washrooms etc. 

One might be surprised to find out that the arrangements and segregations of college dormitories, public washrooms etc that we consider to represent a natural or inevitable development, are in fact products of historically contingent processes which are prejudiced and neglectful towards individuals who identify as transgender, queer, non-binary and other non-normative gender identities. 

As of late, we all must have seen the increased usage of the sentence “My pronoun is …” by an individual thereby showcasing the novel positive practice of using gender inclusive language. The usage of such gender inclusive language highlights the need for developing an impartial society. 

Gender neutrality can be defined as an idea which believes that society should avoid characterising roles on the basis of people’s sex or gender, so as to do away with the discrimination that arises from the impression that there are defined social roles for different genders. Given the fact that we are growing to recognise the negative impact of the “blue is for boys, pink is for girls” mentality and gender biased commentaries existing in society, it is important to consider another vital aspect of this branch i.e. gender-neutral spaces.

“Studies show that multiple-person all-gender bathrooms receive no complaints, no badgering and no violence.”

A gender-neutral space is a setting where any person of any identity may enter. Examples of a gendered space include women’s and men’s locker rooms, public washrooms, sex-segregated dormitories, playgrounds, etc. These gendered spaces often act as sites of symbolic and physical exclusion and discrimination. Gender-neutral spaces will not only benefit individuals possessing non-conforming identities but also help make life easier for women and those who face physical challenges.

In 2018, Tata Institute of Social Sciences became the first undergraduate institute in India to have a gender-neutral hostel. Further, gender-neutral washrooms have also been installed on the TISS campus. A comparable trend was additionally witnessed in Ashoka University who attempted to experiment with introducing gender-neutral washrooms on their grounds too. By presenting such impartial spaces, these foundations have attempted to make a liberal space which advances the opportunity of articulation without the dysphoria of segregation and isolation. 

Not only this, these spaces can help create safer spaces, especially all-gender bathrooms and changing rooms can advance safer environments since they receive more foot traffic and, usually, are more visible thereby making them less likely to attract predators. Studies show that multiple-person all-gender bathrooms receive no complaints, no badgering and no violence. Not only this, growing such spaces will assist us in spreading awareness, sensitizing the masses and also help break down the stereotypes existing around gender identities, gender roles etc.

Moreover, creating such spaces need not be an expensive and tedious affair. One can basically convert or redesign gendered spaces like washrooms or residences with practically zero financing relying on the structure and arrangements. Little changes like getting rid of the people sign from outside the storage spaces, introducing simple labels like changing room/restroom etc. will go a long way. 

“Gendered spaces and their usage are like a cultural norm, something that has been ingrained in our minds since a very young age.”

In the case of a workplace, one need not use hues and typography that are evidently appealing to ladies; rather, they must research and invest in creating gender-inclusive design structures that will give individuals the space to pick and express their individual likings rather than segregating and drawing attention to existing differences. However, it must be remembered that all gendered spaces must be made as an alternative and not as a limitation on individuals who prefer to utilize gendered spaces – as the motivation behind creating gender neutral-spaces is to promote freedom of choice and equal access.

Gendered spaces and their usage are like a cultural norm, something that has been ingrained in our minds since a very young age. Getting away from such a strong sense of conditioning will initially be strange and uncomfortable but what is a touch of inconvenience or discomfort, when contrasted with the inability of individuals to avail basic amenities? 

Having said that, it must also be recalled that this transition is not merely a physical process, there is a need to look deeper into factors making this progress emotionally and mentally difficult for individuals and conduct sensitization workshops to address the same. Further, our musings and mentalities often mirror our surrounding physical structures; adequate infrastructural variations will go a long way in our endeavours to develop an inclusive and just society.

References:

Guide to All-Gender Spaces – By JAC Stringer, Heartland Trans Wellness Group, Cincinnati, Ohio

Gender Neutral Residences – A Guide for Creating Safer Spaces - By Rasika Gopalakrishnan

How Can We Design Truly Gender-Neutral Workplaces - By Dr. Pragya Agarwal

 TISS, India's First Campus To Start Gender-Neutral Hostel

Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: Gensler

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