Turning the wheel towards girl friendly school toilets
"Sanitation is a closed subject. Nobody wants to talk or complain about it and nobody is trying to promote a sustainable sanitation culture. Lonely Planet just said that Sri Lanka is the best place to travel but our toilet culture is bad. For example, in Down South we have sanitation apartheid because there are toilets only for foreigners." Kusum Athukorala of NetWwater/WfWP in W@W
For many girls in Sri Lanka going to the toilet at school is a nightmare. Especially during menstruation. Hygiene is poor and toilets are often clogged with toilet paper and napkins. Many girls choose during their period to rather stay home for three to four days. Girls from the most marginalized (tea estate) communities gradually drop out of school altogether. Education in reproductive health still suffers from traditional beliefs keeping taboos about menstruation widely spread. WfWP member NetWwater (Network of Women Water Professionals) in 2014 initiated a School Menstrual Hygiene Management(MHM) program in cooperation with the Education Department of Sri Lanka’s Central Province. Officially launched on International MHM Day 2015 the – ongoing - program has expanded over the entire province.
NetWwater implements the program with varying partners depending on specific activities. Which include advocacy campaigns to build awareness among school authorities in the entire Central Province to combat inappropriate disposal of sanitation napkins (a major cause of toilet blockage of school toilets), the importance of girl friendly toilets, and promote the need for a menstrual hygiene management program to reducing absenteeism among adolescent girls and improve reproductive health awareness among all students.
The importance of the program was acknowledged by the government of Sri Lanka, which presented the activities and results during the South Asia Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN) 2016 in Dhaka. The increasing attention for NetWwater’s work that same year resulted in a cooperation with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) in Geneva, to adopt their MHM Wheel (see slideshow below) in Sri Lanka. Student counsellors and school prefects were taught to make the MHM wheel and a brochure for dissemination to schools. Follow-up training was carried out for students and (aspirant) teachers targeted by the program before introduction of the wheel.
Late 2017 NetWwater was selected to co-organize the South Asian Regional Menstrual Hygiene Management Training program in Sri Lanka. And the Department of Provincial Education of Central Province, with funding of The Ministry of City Planning and Water supply and the Sri Lanka Water Partnership, this year started expansion of the program in the entire province.
The program does face challenges. Menstruation is still a taboo word in most schools and some male counselor teachers refused to attend the training programs stating that this is woman’s work. But NetWwater has built trust over a long period of time with provincial (government) partners understanding and supporting the need to improve school attendance of adolescent girls. Support of professionals in the local health and education sector, especially male professionals, has also proven vital. And, of course, financial support, good publicity and promising results are interconnected conditions for success.
SDG Target 6.2
Achieving universal access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene by 2030 is a major challenge in many parts of the world. Target 6.2 calls for countries to end open defecation, to ensure that everyone has access to a basic toilet and to put in place systems for safe management of excreta.
The global population using at least a basic sanitation service increased from 59 per cent in 2000 to 68 per cent between in 2015. However, 2.3 billion people still lacked basic services, 70 per cent were in rural areas, and just 1 in 10 countries below 95 per cent coverage is on track to achieve universal coverage by 2030.
Furthermore, 4.5 billion people worldwide lacked a safely managed sanitation service in 2015, where excreta were safely disposed of in-situ or treated off-site.
Target 6.2 also highlights the importance of hygiene and calls for special attention to the needs of women and girls. Handwashing with soap and water is widely recognized as a top priority for reducing disease transmission.
The global status is not yet known, but least developed countries (LDCs) had the lowest coverage: only 27 per cent had basic handwashing facilities, though coverage was higher in urban areas.
Source: SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation