School toilets are more welcoming but children still hold back

School bags in a primary school in Paris, September 1, 2022 (photo illustration) – Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

School bags in a primary school in Paris, September 1, 2022 (photo illustration) – Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

If children find the toilets more engaging, they still massively prevent themselves from going there, according to a study carried out by Harris Interactive for Essity and Harpic.

Toilets are always a problem at school. According to a Harris Interactive survey for Essity and Harpic that was able to consult exclusively, some 81% of children always refrain from going to the toilets, whether sometimes or often. And when they get there, some 37% of these little girls and boys try to hide it.

The study, carried out last October and conducted among 620 girls and boys aged 6 to 11, however points to an improvement since the Covid-19 pandemic. Children have a less negative view of their school’s toilets: fewer of them consider these places to be unwelcoming, particularly from the point of view of cleanliness.

In addition, the impression that the toilets work well, are well stocked with soap and toilet paper and supervised by adults also increases. This could promote a sense of security. And yet, four out of ten children still say it’s a place where they fear being teased.

One in two children are embarrassed to ask

For the geographer Édith Maruéjouls, also author of Make I(u) equal: design spaces at school to include all children, the non-mixed sanitary facilities have long masked, even made invisible, the real problems.

“It is not because there is a sanitary block reserved for girls and another reserved for boys that we have settled the question of security”, she points out for “The non-mixed does not in any way ensure against the problems of harassment or aggression between girls or between boys.”

Besides the topic of toilets at school, on which certain associations such as the Federation of Departmental Delegates of National Education continue to warn, still remains largely taboo for children. One in two children admits to being embarrassed to ask permission from an adult to go to the toilet. And for nearly half of schoolchildren and schoolgirls, it remains difficult to talk about problems in the toilets.

Loss of appetite, urge to cry

This is not without consequence on their health but also on their learning conditions. According to the study, six out of ten children claim to have stomach pains, to the point of not being able to concentrate on schoolwork because they refrain from going to the bathroom.

“Children are not quiet to pee, that’s what they tell me when I go to schools,” says Édith Maruéjouls, founder of L’Atelier recherche Observatoire Egalité, a research office specializing in the egalitarian development of spaces and the fight against gender stereotypes.

“It’s unlikely to still be there, we wouldn’t impose that on adults.”

Worse: a third of boys and girls even refrain from drinking so as not to need to urinate. A real psychological suffering: some confess to losing their appetite or wanting to cry because of this discomfort.

“We don’t talk about it enough”

Edith Maruéjouls is thus campaigning for learning on the subject. For example, eight out of ten children believe that their classmates do not flush the toilet enough. To the question: “in the toilets of the school, what bothers you the most in the behavior of other children?”, the dirtiness of the bowl or the floor is widely mentioned.

“But it’s complicated when the toilets are not equipped with a brush”, denounces the geographer again.

For this specialist in the geography of gender, in addition to the lack of equipment, the question of sanitary facilities is not sufficiently addressed in schools.

“We don’t talk about it enough. And not talking about it is doing nothing.”

The Harris Interactive survey also points to a lack of education on the subject: almost a quarter of children feel that they have not been given specific instructions for using the toilet or do not remember it. not.

The lack of privacy

However, solutions are being considered to improve the situation. And approved by the main stakeholders: nine out of ten children thus ensure that it would be easier for them to go to the toilet if the rules for behaving well there were explained to all the children.

Another track defended for a long time by associations of parents of pupils: to allow children to go to the toilets when they want to. Some 86% of young girls and boys who hold back say they would go to the toilet as soon as they feel like it.

Always to the question: “in the school toilets, what bothers you the most in the behavior of other children?” A third of the children explain that it is the lack of intimacy – in particular when their comrades try to open the door or to look – then come the teasing on their part.

The end of urinals?

In his latest report, Claire Hédon, the Defender of Rights, warned on the subject, believing that the renovation of the toilets should be a priority. “If you ask the children, some don’t want to go to the toilet at school because they can’t isolate themselves, because it’s in everyone’s eyes,” she explained Thursday in an interview on RMC.

In the same vein, the geographer Édith Maruéjouls pleads for a systematic replacement of the urinals by cabins which close and for a separation of the blocks – which must imperatively be open and without partition to allow the supervision by the adults – not according to the distinction girls /boys but age.

“Between a child of CP and another of CM2, it is not the same body nor the same concerns. The toilets must ensure the privacy of the children, privacy to which they are entitled. It is urgent to change the way we look at the toilets.”

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