The Herald’s revelations about the disgraceful condition of some NSW school toilets should come with a trigger warning.
I am still traumatized by my horrors of using school bathrooms when I was a kid. Not only were the toilets often structurally inadequate –wooden splintered doors that didn’t close properly, leaky fittings, broken seats – they were not safe spaces.
The stalls were not enclosed; they had swing doors with giant gaps between ceiling and floor, affording no privacy to the child inside.
Senior girls would often perch themselves on top of the stalls as a sort of menacing challenge to anyone who walked into the bathroom.
“You’re going to use the toilet?” they mocked. “You’ll have to do it in front of us.” I stopped using the toilets and stopped drinking water.
In summer, I would eke out tiny sips to get me through the day. When I had my period, I would load up with extra menstrual products and prayed they would get me through the day. I went through high school permanently dehydrated and anxious.
I thought it was just me. But when I surveyed my old school friends, I discovered that many suffered. I am appalled to learn that kids are still suffering from unhygienic and unsafe school toilets.
My daughter goes to a lovely school which has excellent toilet facilities, and it has been a genuine source of gratitude and astonishment to me that she feels free to use the bathroom during the day. This fundamental and simple human right – to be able to go to the toilet – is a privilege out of the reach of so many school kids.
Innumerable parents have told me their kids are scared to use school bathrooms because they are filthy, lack privacy or because they are rife with bullying and intimidation.