‘Down’ and out of school

Lack of functioning toilets results in
23%
adolescent girls dropping out of school every year.

This Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28), it’s important for us to highlight and be aware about the issue that hampers girls’ access to education across the globe. Lack of sanitary products, adequate information and availability of infrastructure leads to poor attendance and increase in dropout rates in schools.

In India, menstruation is looked down upon as ‘impure’ owing to cultural and religious stigma. Girls lack access to toilets, both at home and at school, to go through their periods safely and with dignity. This directly impacts their mental and physical well-being. They further face many restrictions with the onset of their period: not entering religious spaces or the kitchen, refraining from touching holy objects and foods like pickles are some of the many things they are not allowed to do.

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Some staggering statistics reveal the depth of this issue and the barriers surrounding it in India.

  • There are 63 million adolescent girls living in homes without toilets. 
  • In 2012, 40% of all government schools lacked a functioning common toilet, and another 40% lacked a separate toilet for girls.
  • Many girls do not change pads in school (due to lack of toilets)
  • Girls would go to school if proper toilet facilities existed. 
  • Girls in India aged 11 to 14 are most vulnerable to drop out of school.

It’s worrying that even at this stage of development across the world we’re trying to address this basic health and hygiene issue. However, with initiatives like Menstrual Hygiene Day, the world is trying to break taboos and raise awareness about this cause.  It is even being addressed as part of three Sustainable Development Goals: Quality Education, Gender Equality and Clean Water and Sanitation as well.

What are some of the things we can do to help change this?

  • 70% mothers interviewed in a survey in India considered menses ‘dirty’ and ‘polluting’. We need to start by educating them and speaking about how natural and vital periods are to the female body.
  • Schools must have separate toilets for girls and access to proper disposal of menstrual waste so girls don’t miss out, or worse, drop out of school.
  • Teachers should be enabled to help educate about menstrual hygiene in schools.

Girls not being able to attend school due to lack of toilets and stigma around menstruation is, in effect, denying them equal rights. Let’s change these statistics and help them go to school. Period.

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Resources:

  • SOS Childrens’ Village. Social taboos damage the health of girls and women. 2014
  • Mahon, Thérèse, and Maria Fernandes. Menstrual Hygiene in South Asia: A Neglected Issue for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Programmes. London: WaterAid, 2010.
  • FGS Menstrual Health in India | Country Landscape Analysis
  • Bala, Nisha. “The 3 Biggest Reasons That India’s Girls Drop Out of School.” American India Foundation(blog), Summer 2014
  • Thakre, Subhash B., Sushama S. Thakre, Monica Reddy, Nidhi Rathi, Ketaki Pathak, and Suresh Ughade. “Menstrual Hygiene: Knowledge and Practice among Adolescent School Girls of Saoner, Nagpur District.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research 5, no. 5 (October 2011): 1027-1033
  • Menstrual Hygiene & Management: An Issue Unnoticed. A KAPB Study Report. Vatsalya and WaterAid India, January- March 2012.
  • Spot On! Improving Menstrual Health and Hygiene in India. Report. Dasra, Kiawah Trust, and USAID, 2014

 

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