The Significance of a Unisex Bathroom at the Women Deliver Conference 2023
by Tabetha Rudo Kanengoni-Malinga
The Women Deliver conference, a global gathering that celebrates the strength and resilience of women worldwide, is a platform where diverse voices converge to advocate for gender equality and women’s rights. Amidst the vibrant discussions and powerful dialogues, an unexpected yet highly significant feature stood out—a unisex bathroom. Beyond its functional purpose, the presence of a unisex bathroom at this empowering event carried a profound message of inclusivity and respect for all attendees, regardless of gender identity.
As a first-time attendee at the Women Deliver conference, stepping into the unisex bathroom was both a novel and slightly nerve-wracking experience. The notion of a shared restroom space was unfamiliar to me, and I wondered how it would differ from the traditional gender-segregated bathrooms I was accustomed to. However, any apprehension I felt quickly dissipated as I realized the true value of this gender-inclusive facility.
One of the first things I noticed was the absence of the traditional binary signs designating “Men” and “Women” on the doors. Instead, the unisex bathroom doors featured a simple yet powerful symbol—an amalgamation of the male and female icons, representing an inclusive space that transcended gender barriers.
As I entered, I immediately sensed a spirit of camaraderie and mutual respect among the diverse group of conference attendees using the restroom. There was a palpable sense of ease and comfort that transcended gender norms, as people went about their business without any sense of discomfort or judgment.
The unisex bathroom provided a safe and accepting environment, where individuals could attend to their needs without feeling restricted or judged by traditional gender norms. This inclusivity was especially significant for gender-nonconforming and non-binary attendees who often face challenges and anxiety in traditional gender-segregated restrooms.
For many, this unisex bathroom served as an oasis of equality, challenging the normative distinctions between genders and fostering a sense of community and shared experience. It eliminated the implicit message that restrooms are spaces that should be restricted based on gender identity, reaffirming that all individuals have the right to use these facilities comfortably and without prejudice.
Moreover, the presence of a unisex bathroom highlighted the Women Deliver conference’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, which goes beyond empowering only cisgender women. It sends a powerful message of solidarity to transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming individuals, acknowledging their identities and affirming their right to be respected and included.
In the unisex bathroom, I witnessed an exchange of smiles, nods, and even friendly conversations among strangers. It was a microcosm of the conference’s theme, spaces, solidarity, solutions. The shared space blurred the lines that often separate us and reminded us that despite our diverse backgrounds and experiences, we are all part of the same journey towards a more inclusive and equitable world.
As I stepped out of the unisex bathroom, I carried with me a newfound appreciation for this small yet significant aspect of the Women Deliver conference. The unisex bathroom was not just a functional convenience; it was a symbol of progress, a testament to the conference’s commitment to breaking barriers, and an embodiment of the broader struggle for inclusivity and understanding.
In a world where gender norms have long dictated social spaces, the unisex bathroom at the Women Deliver conference stands as a poignant reminder that true empowerment can only be achieved through inclusivity. It serves as an inspiration for other events and public spaces to re-evaluate their facilities and foster an environment where everyone feels acknowledged, respected, and welcome. Let it be a stepping stone towards a more compassionate and equitable future, where shared spaces become a celebration of unity, diversity, and the strength of our collective voices.
(Tabetha Kanengoni-Malinga is the Women from the South Speak Out (WOSSO) programme manager at Gender Links. This article is part of a series being produced during Women’s Month based on participation by VCSAFund grantees in the Women Deliver Conference held in Kigali in July)