Thursday, 11 May 2017

What Is Going On?

I was more terrified than shocked when I recently read a news story about community schools in Baitadi where girls avoid going to the toilet for the entire day because of the pathetic condition of their schools’ toilets. Not only this, but the girls were also deprived of good menstrual hygiene management skills. They did not even have sanitary pads, and this led to two girls who were on their period while sitting for an SEE exam being compelled to stay back at the examination centre until everybody else had left due to their embarrassment.   
If we consider the policy document of the government of Nepal (GoN) regarding school sanitation, it says that it is committed to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all in Nepal by 2017. It further states that GoN is committed to prioritising and promoting child and disabled friendly services and menstrual hygiene management in schools and monitor this in standards, design and delivery. Therefore, to ensure school sanitation the programme WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) has been implemented in community schools in Nepal.
 WASH highlights that at the very minimum, there will be separate toilets for girls and boys, every 50 students will be entitled to a set of toilets with running water – one for urination and another for defecation. Without a doubt, a huge amount of money has also been allocated to improve WASH at schools. Then, why is the situation of WASH so pitiful in Baitadi? This exemplifies the real condition of WASH in most of Nepal’s community schools. An investigation conducted by WaterAid in association with Ministry of Education indicates that currently one toilet serves 166 female students on average. Even though the number of toilets has been increasing -- one school in Baitadi has been recorded as having ten toilets -- the actual problem remains the lack of water.
No water and female-unfriendly toilets cannot particularly serve the girls who have their periods. Because of this, such girls either do not go to school while they are menstruating or they come back home early. This hampers the girls’ education program too. A world virtual conference on WASH in Schools Empowers Girls' Education highlights the relationship between menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and retention of girls in schools. 
MHM is defined by Colombia University and UNISEF as, "Women and adolescent girls use a clean material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, and this material can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstrual period. MHM includes using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials."
As discussed, most of the community schools do not fit the MHM definition above. Apart from this, WASH is a right of all school-going children. Why has the government's commitment to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all in Nepal by 2017 disappeared? We are nearly midway through 2017 and school girls are still restraining their natural toilet-going urges for the whole day merely because of a lack of toilet facilities! Is it something worth being proud of?
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, May 5, 2017 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]

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I would appreciate any and all suggestions on making improvements (as long as they are viable).