Unisex Toilets & Religious Education in Finnish Schools

By Igor Radun, PhD

Introduction with Editor- in Chief’s comments: The following article touches on the important point of equality in society from our distinguished writer, Igor Radun. The article delves into several aspects of discrimination which are still allowed to flourish even though the Finnish Constitution expresses a clear legal position on the matter. In fact, Finland’s written Constitution Act is very clear in defining the meaning of equality in quite precise terms:

“Section 6 – Equality

  • Everyone is equal before the law.
  • No one shall, without an acceptable reason, be treated differently from other persons on the ground of sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction, opinion, health, disability or other reason that concerns his or her person.
  • Children shall be treated equally and as individuals and they shall be allowed to influence matters pertaining to themselves to a degree corresponding to their level of
  • Equality of the sexes is promoted in societal activity and working life, especially in the determination of pay and the other terms of employment, as provided in more detail by an Act.”

Readers can judge for themselves that it appears that employers and schools are not necessarily adhering to the law since there are big wage differentials between men and women, and it also appears that some traditional religions are given preference over many others in public activities of State.

Unisex toilets and religious education in Finnish schools

Written by Igor Radun, PhD

An increasing number of organizations in Finland has started to introduce unisex toilets. Wikipedia offers many different names for these toilets such as “gender-inclusive, gender-neutral and mixed-sex or all-gender toilets, bathrooms or restrooms.” Although there are several arguments in favor of unisex toilets, one of the often mentioned is the benefits they can offer to “transgender populations and people outside of the gender binary” (borrowed also from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unisex_public_toilet).

While gender equality has been recognized as a fundamental human right, we are far from ensuring absolute equality. For example, even in a forerunner of gender equality, Finland, there is a significant pay gap between genders: for equal work, women receive 17% less payment. On the other hand, gender neutrality is a practical way of achieving gender equality. It is believed that by increasing gender neutrality in our daily lives, we will reduce stereotypes about gender roles, which lead to gender discrimination. Making toilets, traffic signs etc. gender neutral has become a global trend.

Although I only recently got interested in gender neutrality issue, I have been interested in religious education for a long time. My interest started when a kindergarten nurse asked me for the first time whether it is OK that my son goes into a church with other kids to listen stories about baby Jesus. I was shocked and still haven’t really understood what a public kindergarten has to do with church. But that was just a beginning of my wonders.

When my kids started going to a public school, they had to choose between Religious Education of their (i.e., us parent’s) choice or pick so-called Secular Ethics class. Although it is claimed that “Religious Education in schools is non-confessional,” those children who chose Religious Education are separated and attend this religion class with other pupils of the same religion. It took me some time to explain my kids why they should attend Secular Ethics class. To explain that there is nothing wrong with them, or for that matter with me, if they are a significant minority in their classes. I also tried to explain them that although I am an atheist and don’t believe in imaginary characters, they will have an opportunity to study different religions when they are cognitively and emotionally mature. They will have to decide themselves if they want to believe in supernatural beings and if they want to belong to some religion… when time comes.

While I don’t see a problem if children receive a neutral (!) education about different religions in schools, I strongly believe that kids should not under any circumstance be divided into different classes based on the religion of their parents. It is not a whataboutism when I ask this: why an increasing number of people think that separate toilets for adult (!) men and women are such a big problem, while our public schools keep separating innocent and fragile kids as young as 7-8 years old based on the religion of their parents?

If you want to comment, you can do that on my Twitter account:


Written by Igor Radun, PhD

webpage: http://www.mv.helsinki.fi/home/radun

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