Water, environment and sanitation (WES) are children’s issues, inexorably linked to girls’ education. When over a billion people do not have access to safe water and 2.6 billion people – half of the developing world’s population – do not have adequate sanitation, it is not surprising that so many schools fail to provide these essentials to their students.
Safe water and adequate sanitation are as important to quality education as pencils, books and teachers. Safe water and adequate sanitation are crucial for girls to take their rightful place in the classroom. Without these basic necessities, girls will continue to be absent.
Far too many schools are woefully lacking hygienic conditions with broken, dirty and unsafe water supplies and toilets or latrines not adapted to children, especially girls. Some have no water or sanitation facilities at all. Too often schools are hazardous to children’s health.
While affecting all school-aged children, inadequate sanitation facilities hit girls hardest, pushing many out of the classroom for lack of privacy and dignity. In some cases girls put up with these deplorable conditions only to leave when they begin to menstruate. UNICEF recognizes that all primary schools need clean, separate latrines for boys and girls.
For girls to remain in school, they also must be freed from the laborious task of fetching water from distant wells. Providing safe water for the family often falls to girls because of discrimination and gender roles. Instead of being in school, they spend hours fetching water. If they are fortunate enough to finally get to school, they are often too tired to learn.
Girls’ education is also linked to proper hygiene. Hygiene education is as important as the ABCs. Poor hygiene leads to poor health, which keeps girls – and boys – out of the classroom. If being ill fails to keep them from school, the burden of disease interferes with their ability to concentrate and learn. Quality education can not effectively reach sick children.
UNICEF brings clean water, adequate sanitation and hygiene education to primary schools as part of its overall effort to make schools child-friendly. One example of the linkage between WES and girls’ education is the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SSHE) project, a joint UNICEF/International Resource Centre initiative. It began in February 2000 in Burkina Faso, Colombia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Viet Nam and Zambia. At the global, regional and national levels, the project advocates for school hygiene education and enabling environments to put these skills into practice. With an emphasis on local participation, SSHE provides low-cost teaching aids, inexpensive, community developed technology and life-skills hygiene education to primary schools.