This weekend the school for Social Work in Tel Aviv allocated an all genders bathroom, designated for both students and staff members, alongside the traditional bathrooms for men and women that exist in the building. This is the first of its kind initiative in a higher education institution.
“As part of the establishment of a ‘safe space’ for people who feel uncomfortable in a male-only or female-only bathroom, and as recommended by the gender fairness committee in the school led by Dr. Guy Shilo, we decided to allocate an all-genders bathroom for the benefit of students and faculty,” the written statement issued by the university said, “Separate bathrooms for men and women may be a threatening space for many, certainly for those whose gender identity is not dichotomous. This requires a choice that does not correspond with their gender identity. In addition, sometimes bathrooms can become places of harassment, ridicule or disrespectful behavior. Many frameworks recognize the need to allow gender-neutral bathrooms, and we are proud to be a pioneer on the subject at Tel Aviv University.”
The decision on the allocation of the bathroom was received by the commission for gender fairness, whose function is to examine how content and infrastructure of the school stands in line with the values of fairness towards different genders. The new bathroom is just one of many decisions of the Commission, such as the allocation of space for people accompanying women who come with babies and space for breastfeeding mothers.
“A day has passed since the message went out to the students, and I’ve already heard several students – including people from other faculties – for whom the new bathroom is such a rescue,” said Dr. Guy Shilo. “A transgender woman said that when she went into the ladies room she was laughed at and was called ‘a freak’, and since then she didn’t enter the bathrooms on campus; a straight student who has a medical problem in his penis and is full of shame, does not go into a bathroom that has urinals. A student who dresses in a way that looks to others ‘a little strange’ went through humiliation and harassment. For all of these – and for others – it seems that the new bathroom can assist and help. Now everyone can find the appropriate place for them, so we will all have a safe and pleasant space. The school’s community is diverse and it’s great, and we will continue to do everything we can to enable a pleasant, comfortable, secure and respectful learning atmosphere for everyone.”
Dr. Sheilo also addressed various criticisms voiced by university students, who expressed surprise at the decision, saying “It’s interesting how one little sign creates a ‘storm.’ It says a lot about how we relate to gender and the dichotomous form in which ordinary people think about it. So beyond the relief for many people, I am pleased that the new bathroom causes fruitful discussion and makes us all think. “