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Clean water, sanitation and hygiene: missing pieces in the jigsaw of girls’ education

WT24 Desk

Despite earnest efforts on the part of government to promote girls’ education, some bottlenecks at the ground level continue to disrupt female participation in the education system,UNB reports.

Lack of water, hygiene and adequate sanitation, mainly in rural areas, are some of the factors pushing back against government incentives such as stipends for girls attending school, causing poor health and irregular school attendance.

Talking to UNB, a number of teachers and students said most schools lack adequate water facilities and clean sanitation. Toilets in schools lack basic facilities such as water connections, soaps, napkins, ventilation and bins for dumping waste.

That is on top of the number of toilets in their schools being insufficient against the number of total students in the first place. In most schools, water has to be fetched from a tube well outside the main school building toilets.

They said the policymakers and school management committees only pay attention to making physical infrastructures, renovating buildings and improving seating arrangements, but they hardy think of ensuring access to water and sanitation and washing facilities, which are crucial for female students during their menstruation cycle.

Health experts think many diseases relating to reproductive health, kidney and uterus infections can be reduced alongside addressing gender inequality by ensuring access to safe water, proper sanitation and hygiene for female students at their schools.

To address these problems and ensure health hygiene for girls, a unique project titled ‘Labonnya’ was initiated at Mithapukur in Rangpur. Under the project, around 28,500 students of 166 schools, colleges and madrasahs in the upazila are given sanitary napkins every month to ensure their presence in school even during their period.

Inter Press Service (IPS) and News Network arranged a five-day training and capacity-building workshop styled ‘Empowering Girls through Healthcare and Hygiene Support’ at the upazila agriculture office on March 12-16 to make the Labonnya project more successful.

Fifty teachers and 50 students from different schools, colleges and madrasahs took part in the programme. Kausari Akhter Banu, a teacher of Mirzapur Kaderai Madrasah, who took part in the workshop, said the Labonnya project is helping to reduce the rate of absenteeism and dropouts among girls significantly in the upazila.

Following implementation of the project, girls are now less hesitant to go to school during menstruation, since they are getting sanitary napkins to manage it.

She, however, said many schools and colleges still cannot ensure a healthy atmosphere for the girls to use and dispose their sanitary napkins when necessary, due to the continued lack of soap and safe water, not to mention disposal bins. “Almost all the primary and secondary-level institutions in the country have the same problem. So I think authorities concerned should focus on it.”

Banu also said there are only two toilets for around 400 female students at their madrasah, which is inadequate. Rasheda Begum, a teacher of Moyenpur High School said 340 students at their school share only two toilets, even though the government has set a standard to install one toilet per sixty students. “Most schools across the country cannot maintain proper standards of sanitation,” she said.

“Female students need somewhere private to change sanitary cloths or pads, clean water and soap for washing their hands and used cloths or pads, and facilities for safely disposing of used materials. But most educational institutions in the country can’t ensure these facilities,” she observed, echoing the views of Kausari Banu.

Monika Akhter, a 10th grader of Shukurerhat High School said their school washrooms are not conducive to clean menstrual management. “We used to avoid using school toilets, because they cause physical problems and embarrassment,” she revealed.

Every school management board should ensure clean washrooms with access to safe water and sanitation and privacy for female students, Monika observed.

A nine grader Arju Ara of Fakirerhat High School said, “We’ve to fetch water from a tube well outside toilets while the environment inside it is appalling. Though girls are getting sanitary napkins from Labonnya Project, still many girls remain absent during the first two days of their menstruation. We have no basket to dispose of our used pads.”

She said there are two toilets for over 400 female students at their school. Like Monika and Arju other students joined the workshop echoed similar views saying they cannot use the school toilets comfortably due to their being dirty and riddled with flies, mosquitoes, besides lacking ventilation and washing facilities.

Sabiha Najnin, consultant (Guiney) at Badarganj Upazila Health Complex said around 43 percent of the girls visiting the complex do so for diseases related to gynecological problems and urinary infections. “The root cause of the problem is lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene.”

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