Govt drive to improve embraces unisex public conveniences facilities

By Liu Caiyu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/2 19:58:39

Inset: LED lights in the Pudong unisex toilet say if they are occupied or not. Photo: IC


A cleaner cleans the first unisex toilet in Pudong district, Shanghai. The toilet, which opened on November 19 2016, World Toilet Day, includes 6 sitting toilets and 4 squat toilets. Photo: IC

 It has been two years since the toilet revolution was proclaimed by China's top tourism authorities, when they announced it would improve the hygiene of public conveniences all over the country.

However, that task has proved to be easier said than done.

Situated in the city's flashy Pudong district, the first unisex toilet in Shanghai looks like it is part of a fancy hotel from the outside.

Despite this attractive appearance, the public toilet has only been used by about 4,200 people since it came into service in November 2016, as a pilot project of the toilet revolution.

The toilet, which is open from 5 am till 9 pm every day, has been used by an average of just 34 people a day.

Noon is the busiest time for the toilet, its cleaner was quoted as saying by news portal on Tuesday.

Other than visitors who come to walk on a nearby grassy area, nearly 80 percent of its users are construction workers.

"Sometimes they smoke, making the toilet very dirty," the cleaner said.

Public scepticism

More of these facilities will be built in Shanghai in accordance with the public's enthusiasm for them, an official from the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center was quoted as saying by

"I felt very awkward when I went to a unisex toilet for the first time in Taiwan. It felt like boys were looking at me when I washed my hands, even though they were not," Wang, a 21-year-old college student from Northeast China's Liaoning Province, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

But Wang believes she and others like her will get used to these kinds of toilets as more people experience them.

However, Zoe Sun, a 27-year-old woman who works in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, told the Global Times that "I couldn't go if I knew there was a man in the nearby toilet…even though there are partitions… and it would be disgusting when men smoke inside the toilets."

Sun said the government should just install more toilets for women instead.

The construction of unisex toilets has been a boom to transgender people as the understanding and acceptance of transgender issues is still low in Chinese society, Yang Gang, an employee at the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute - a NGO, was quoted as saying by the Southern Weekly on February 23.

Besides unisex facilities, many "third public toilets" have also been built in China, especially in scenic spots, as part of the toilet revolution.

These large toilets that offer greater privacy are designed for people with children or old people of different genders, as the extra room makes it easier to accompany someone.

"Many people have no idea about who exactly those toilets are for. They are confused with the sign on the door, some of which read 'disabled only,'" a toilet cleaner told Travel Zone, a leading Chinese travel news website, in November 2016.

Tricky problem

"Effort is still needed to solve the confusion, making sure the toilets are fully used," Li Jinzao, head of The National Tourism Administration (NTA), said in November 2016.

Li added that "toilets are the trickiest problem facing the national tourism and a drawback of our social civilization and public service system."

The NTA held a working meeting on February 4, urging the country's 5A-class scenic spots to install gender-neutral bathrooms, and announcing plans to build 604 "third public toilets" across China including 271 of newly built and 333 renovated.

A total of 50,916 toilets have been installed or upgraded so far, amounting to 89 percent of the official target the Chinese government set for the three years through to 2017, Li said at the meeting.

However Hu Xingdou, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, warned that "the 'toilet revolution' cannot be declared a success, since hygiene problems are still common in rural areas and scenic spots, which needs more years to solve."

Many public toilets have no maintenance staff and the public's awareness of good toilet etiquette is still lower than in other countries, such as Japan, Hu pointed out.

Liu Simin, vice president of the Tourism Research Institute of the China Society for Future Studies, told the Global Times that local governments need to plan numbers of male, female and unisex toilets according to local demand to ensure that people actually use them.

The government must conduct field visits when planning toilets to save money and gauge demand, Liu said.

Newspaper headline: Toiling on toilets

Posted in: SOCIETY

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