The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the first time include a target to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, with specific attention on the needs of women and girls.
With this newly found international attention, the time has arrived to address WaSH challenges in schools. Evidence shows that investing in safe and improved WaSH facilities improves girls’ health and enhances knowledge, which in turn empowers girls to reach their full potential and become agents of change within their communities.
The following solutions suggest concrete ways in which governments, donors, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations, and community members and leaders can come together to ensure that by 2030, girls around the globe have access to adequate and equitable water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Proposed WaSH Solutions – Access to safe water in schools.
Extreme poverty often prevents families from sending all of their children to school, and when a choice needs to be made to send only a few, it is the boys who attend most often.
This ensures that girls are able to help with household chores and bear the burden of collecting water for household-related needs. When girls do attend school, these same cultural norms mean that girls are the ones to miss class to fetch water for school-related needs, often miles away from the school, and from sources located in unsafe areas.
When water is available at schools, this burden is reduced and the school becomes a safe place for parents to send all of their children. Specifically, these issues of inequality can be addressed by the following:
Installing a safe, gender-friendly water supply facility inside the school compound, such as a borehole with a hand pump, rain water catchment system, or a piped water system (appropriate for urban or peri-urban schools) in line with national guidelines.
Sustainable management of WaSH facilities
Setting aside government funds for operation and maintenance of facilities, including establishing water quality monitoring forms a part of the operation and maintenance of facilities.
Training staff on the upkeep of facilities and linking schools to local service providers for repairs; and, Ensuring water is placed in key areas for use by girls and boys, including in classrooms, at handwashing stations, and in a latrine or toilet blocks.
Access to improved sanitation and hygiene in schools.
A lack of improved sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools impacts girls disproportionately to boys and is a significant factor in keeping girls from attending school.
Unsafe sanitation facilities, including shared toilets and a lack of doors, impede girls from using the toilets (potentially leading to increased health issues) and, when used, feeling dignified and safe.
In addition, latrines and toilets that lack facilities to manage menstrual hygiene-related needs to prevent girls from attending school when they have their menses.
This reduces their quantity and quality of learning and in turn, affects their long-term health and economic development. A lack of hand-washing facilities also negatively impacts girls’ (and boys’) health, contributing to increased morbidity and mortality.
It is possible for these challenges to be tackled by the following actions:
- Installing improved sanitation (toilet) facilities within the school compound, including gender-friendly stalls with water and space to wash, hooks for hanging clothing, and safe waste disposal options;
- Provision of sanitary pads, available in case of an emergency through the head female teachers; and,
- Adequate hand-washing facilities located near the latrine or toilet blocks with sufficient water and soap.
Enhance access to knowledge, information, and decision making
Due to cultural norms or social taboos, girls and women often lack access to information about reproductive health and the changes they go through during puberty. These subjects are difficult to discuss in social settings, particularly in schools where there is male leadership.
Thus, girls’ WaSH needs are frequently neglected within the broader education context and information is not easily accessible or shared within institutions or at the household level, perpetuating generational knowledge gaps.