Blog: The Princess and the WC

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A couple of weeks ago, I faced a dilemma. After a family visit to the dentist, during which both children were (ahem) very brave, my son was offered a choice of four or five superhero stickers. The dental nurse then replaced those in the drawer and pulled out a selection of Disney princess stickers to offer my daughter. I’m not against the odd Disney princess here and there, but why not give them the same mixed selection to choose from? And what’s wrong with the cartoon mice and toothbrushes that we used to get? Despite being taken aback I didn’t comment – I was next in the chair after all!

That evening (because I’m a bit more reliant on social media than is healthy) I canvassed friends’ opinions on Facebook. There were a few (all men) who didn’t see any problem, and a few who thought it was too trivial to worry about, but most shared my concern. I duly filled in the feedback form on the practice website and got a nice, although rather non-committal, reply. Will the kids get offered the same stickers next time? Ask me in six months.

Anyway, it can be tough being a post-modern feminist in 21st century Britain. Actually working out what battle to pick, never mind knowing if you’re winning or losing , feels pretty impossible at times. That was why I was very pleased when Luke, our firm’s Director, announced that our business has joined the toilettwinning.org project, by donating some money to ‘twin’ our office loo with a school toilet block in the developing world. For our donation of £240, a brand new toilet block is built for a school. We even get a certificate to hang on our toilet wall, containing a photo of it and its map co-ordinates, should we ever wish to visit it.

What’s that got to do with promoting gender equality? The thing is, access to a safe, private, hygienic toilet matters more to women than men. (Just ask anyone who’s been to a festival this summer.) In developing countries, it can mean safety from snake bites or even sexual attack for women forced by social convention to defecate outside only under cover of darkness. For many girls, a toilet in school can mean the difference between continuing their education or not.

So, as a mum, I’ll continue to fret about Disney princesses and sexualised music videos and part-time working. But I’m also going to twin my own toilet, to do a little bit for girls and women (and men and boys) with much bigger problems than mine.

Joanne Sefton
Barrister, Menzies Law

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