Why WASH programme should be introduced in schools

THE road was long and whenever Janet (16) took a step forward, still deter- mined to reach School hardly six kilometers from home, little clouds of dust rose and whirled angrily behind her.

But behold, she is in her period and only armed with rags to call it a day. Her case is a widespread but unacknowledged problem that girls in Africa miss school and stay at home be- cause of menstruation.

According to UNICEF, one in ten schoolgirls in Africa miss classes or drop out completely due to their period and substitute pads or tampons for less safe and less absorbent materials such as rags, newspaper or bark. There are many aspects that link girls’ attendance rates to their menstrual cycles.

Firstly, the lack of affordable sanitary products and facilities for girls and women keeps them at a dis- advantage in terms of education when they are young and prevents their mobility and productivity as women.

Secondly, the lack of clean and healthy sanitation such as toilets and running water means that girls often do not have anywhere to change or dispose of pads safely and in privacy at school.

Thirdly, the taboo nature of menstruation prevents girls and their communities from talking about and addressing the problem; raising awareness and education to eliminate the stigma of menstruation is a large part of the battle.

In Tanzania, a local phil- anthropic organisation- My Legacy (Urithi Wangu) that works in collaboration with various stakeholders, including the government, to help such girls and communities live a dignified life, ensure access to clean and safe water, acquire better housing and eliminate poverty by looking at how the community can use the challenges they have turned to create economic opportunities.

Running a three-day workshop to teachers from different parts of Dar es Salaam, who would in turn train their pupils on how to keep safe with washable pads, My Legacy Programme Officer, Amina Ally said such skills being will help teachers to gain an understanding of the issues of global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) including checking how the content can be incorporated into classroom teaching.

She noted that the or- ganisation (My Legacy) in collaboration with the Habitat for Humanity Tanzania (HFHT) has continued to be at the forefront in ensuring that all children, especially girls, live in a dignified environment that protects their dignity from also acts of sexual violence.

Adding: “We have done this through our various pro- grams including the WASH programme in schools which is based on creating friendly systems for access to WASH services including clean water to help girls, who have reached puberty to cover themselves and be clean during their monthly menstruations.” It is very rare to hear issues of WASH and menstruation being linked to gender-based violence.

But we should know that these things still directly affect fe- male children; where many find themselves victims of sexual violence by deliberately being denied essential needs or missing the basic services, including hygiene during menstruation.

This is seen in families living in poor conditions and unable to afford the costs of buying menstrual equipment such as tampons, including the presence of oppressive traditions that continue to suppress the interests of female children by not considering their important needs and increasing silence on issues of safe menstruation for them.

With that logic, we see how friendly infrastructure, equipment and safe WASH services for girls are an important part in promoting menstrual hygiene and pre- venting sexual violence.” When girls do not have access to safe hygiene services, they are at risk of violence such as being bullied and harassed by their male peers, while others become victims of sexual violence at the instigation of men who volunteer to provide or meet these needs at a cost (read in return for sex) for these children.

If these are not provided to them psychologically it become hard for them to go and concentrate in class and study. In the first phase of the project, My Legacy Organisation conducted a preliminary study to understand the actual situation of WASH services in schools and the results of the study clearly showed the importance of having a sustainable Sanitation policy in schools that not only focuses on handling WASH services, but also barriers to access to safe menstrual equipment for adolescent girls.

This is to pro- mote access to climate for girls and protect them from sexual violence. In her quick analysis, Ms Amina pointed out that at least the results of the re- search revealed that:

• 29 per cent of the respondents said that pads and tampons are available at school

• 59 per cent of the respondents reported that the toilets were not friendly and did not meet the needs of young girls and those with special needs;

• 50 per cent of the respondents said that all their schools have special sections/rooms for girls to cover up during menstruation

• 20 per cent of respondents reported having safe disposal methods for used pads while 75 per cent said they did not have such a structure.

• There are some teachers who have gone through formal training on menstrual hygiene while others have not received such training The three-day training focused on:

1. They had the opportunity to learn various guide- lines from the government and development stakeholders on the content of hygiene (WASH) which will help to develop Personal Hygiene Management as well as the cleanliness of the school environment.

2. To provide suggestions for lessons in which WASH content will be incorporated to improve the cleanliness of the school environment and society in general.

3. Having practical training on how to make washing pads and after this training; teachers to use the knowledge they gained to teach girls how to make sanitary pads (sodo) that will help girls in their schools to cover themselves and reduce the high cost of buying female towels from the economic challenges surrounding the family and the little priority they are given during the menstrual period.

4. Have a strong commitment to the implementation of WASH content through WASH clubs in schools.

5. To improve the delivery of information on the work done by the managers of the WASH clubs in schools. In her further address to the participant, she noted that the training will be productive not only for the participants, but also to the public on breaking the silence that exists in the importance of hygiene and menstruation in protecting the rights and health children.

Equally, she appealed that the come out of the training will be sustainable strategies of how stakeholders including the government to introduce and implement WASH commitments in the classroom and through WASH clubs in schools. Commenting on the training relevance, Wazo Ward Assistant Education Officer,

Novatus Rwemela said such workshops should be encouraged to enlighten teachers, who will be the caretakers of the pupils in schools and also guide them on how to use them.

further said: “Such trainings are important to teachers, who will also be ambassadors of others in institutions, before the knowledge is passed over to others in the public on how to enhance hygiene to the girl- child.

One of the participants, Frida James of Mtakuja Beach Secondary teacher said: “Menstruation marks the beginning of the reproductive life of a girl. Poor menstrual hygiene, however, can pose serious health risks, like reproductive and urinary tract infections which can result in future infertility and birth complications.

Neglecting to wash hands after changing menstrual products can spread infections, such as hepatitis B and thrush.”

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