By Mandisa Nyathi
More than 89% of the students present on Thursday during UJ’s Debating Union discussion voted against the implementation of gender-neutral toilets across the institution’s four campuses.
When the votes were tallied, the audience had voted against the initiative with 34 votes and only 4 people voted in favour of having the toilets on campus during the later stage of the public debate session.
The engagement was organized by UJ’s Department of Politics and International Relations in collaboration with the UJ Debate Society.
This debate was led by Nezo Sobekwa, a representative of the Politics and International Relations Department. Sobekwa began by explaining what the debate was about. “This house believes that gender-neutral bathrooms have a place [in] South Africa’s universities,” he said.
“The idea is to be engaging in these [kind of] topics in a very healthy manner so we can learn to tolerate different ideas in society – whether we agree with them or not and to think critically about these issues. That is the idea behind these initiatives,” Sobekwa added.
Morrison, a student from the proposition, commenced the debate by stating that gender-neutral bathrooms have the potential to change power structures in society.
“When gender-neutral bathrooms exist, we change the conversation, we erase any form of binary space and allow sex to be fluid. When there is gender equality, power dynamics do not exist,” Morrison said.
The opposition argued that South Africa is not ready for gender-neutral bathrooms because people are taught from an early age that men and women are different and should, therefore, have separate bathrooms. They argued that education around issues of gender neutrality should have accompanied the project.
“When you place a new sign and simply keep quiet about it, it does not necessarily mean that the person is ready to let go of their own ideas. We need to challenge patriarchy before gender-neutral bathrooms are enforced on us,” said Luyanda, a speaker from the opposition.
Throughout the session, the proposition argued that rape culture would still exist because society does not accept transgender people. They (the proposition) maintained that the existence of neutral gender bathrooms gives room for society to normalise the existence of different types of people.
The opposition further argued that gender-neutral toilets do not change the fact that many South African men are likely to see women as their subordinates.
“Having gender neutral bathrooms now does not necessarily solve the problem at its grassroots and the rape culture,” said Atlehang Molefe, a student who was speaking for the opposition.
The topic was met with mixed reactions from the floor as some students drew from personal experiences.
“As a female, I do not care whether you are a straight man, or you are gay: I simply do not want you in my space when I’m in the bathroom and therefore I am against these bathrooms,” said a female student.
“Gender Neutral toilets have existed for many years, even at home we use the same gender-neutral bathrooms and a conversation has never been sparked. I am for the Proposition,” said Zwelakhe Mahlavhu, who is a Chairman of EFF Student Command at UJ-APK.
Another female student feared for her safety and asked: “As a rape victim, do you expect me to go into the same bathroom as my rapist?”
The debates – which are supported by the Faculty of Education – will continue on a monthly basis. Each of the sessions will focus on issues affecting students.