Prague international school breaks down gender barriers with non-binary toilets

The International School in Prague has introduced gender-neutral toilets to cater for students who identify as non-binary.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 01.11.2021 11:53 (updated on 01.11.2021) Reading time: 2 minutes

Non-binary people may finally be receiving greater acknowledgment in Czech life. Few institutions currently cater to the needs of such people, preferring to conform to traditional gender models. But in some places binary conceptions of gender are now starting to come under question, responding to the more fluid notions of gender commonplace in some Western European countries.

One organization pioneering change in the Czech Republic is the International School of Prague (ISP), where students can choose to either use gender-specific or gender-neutral toilets depending on their interpretation of their own gender identity.

At the moment, such services are relatively rare in the Czech Republic. For those coming from western countries, where facilities for people who do not see themselves as either exclusively male or female are widespread, this lack of regard for fluid notions of gender can seem a blast from the past.

In a 2019 report, Stonewall described non-binary people as "completely invisible" in the Czech Republic "because Czech society has very binary understandings of gender and a heavily gendered language." But the actions of institutions such as ISP suggest more modern attitudes towards gender could now be coming to the Czech Republic too.

“We also have a social area which is gender neutral. There is no male or female doll on the door; instead, there is a little figure who is half male and half female,” Andrea Koudelková, head of school development at the International School of Prague, told Lidovky.cz.

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“Our school, with its mission and philosophy in relation to humanity, has always been open to topics that touch our students’ souls, whether in a joyful or a painful way,” Koudelková said.

ISP has undergone significant changes in recent years under the leadership of Dr Arnie Bieber, who left the school at the start of July. These changes included a greater focus on the student experience and physical improvements to the campus, which is located close to the Divoká Šárka nature reserve in Prague.

The introduction of gender-neutral toilets is another step in the school's focus on the individual student experience. Yet other school leaders in the Czech Republic warn of a potential backlash to gender-inclusive attitudes. Indeed, some warn that creating specific spaces for those who take a non-traditional view of their own gender could actually make bullying and a sense of social exclusion even worse.

“Creating a third [gender-neutral] category is problematic when it comes to physical space. If everyone in the school uses either a boy’s or a girl’s changing room and toilet, but one single person uses a separate changing room because they are non-binary, this could prove difficult,” Zdeněk Sloboda, a sociologist at Olomouc’s Palacký University, told Lidovky.cz.

Sloboda fears that creating a specific physical space for non-binary pupils could lead to an “othering” of those pupils by the rest of the school; the opposite of greater social inclusivity. Yet others, including the International School of Prague, argue that it is only by making non-binary gender identities part of everyday life that such people can gain a greater level of social acceptance. They hope that through small steps such as the introduction of non-binary toilets, traditional limitations on notions of gender can start being broken down in the Czech Republic.

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