Enhancing inclusive learning through the provision of girls changing rooms and modern urinals

For every girl, empowerment

A young girl stands in front of her school
11 February 2021

KPANDAI, NORTHERN REGION, 12 NOVEMBER 2020 - Long distances from home to school, poverty and harmful social norms are just some of the factors which make it difficult for adolescent girls, especially in rural areas, to access quality education.

Unsafe and inadequate sanitation facilities in schools are an added challenge to discourage girls’ attendance to school. The quality of sanitation in school has a “push and pull” effect for girls. If the sanitation situation is unsafe, unhygienic and not designed to cater to the needs of girls, especially the adolescents, most girls would prefer to stay at home, especially during their menstrual period rather than be in school. Combined with ongoing stigma about menstruation, this slowly leads to an increased rate in school drop-out. For girls who become pregnant while still at school, poor sanitation acts as yet another barrier to completing their education as illustrated in the following story.

A young girl with her two-year-old child
Peace Tiyansor with her two-year-old son in front of her school.

Conversely, good functional facilities make it comfortable for girls to attend school, socialize with their peers and give them a greater chance to reach their full learning potential.

17-year-old Peace Tiyansor, the girls’ prefect of Katiejeli Evangelical Presbyterian Junior High school in Kpandai, Northern Region, shared her experience: “I got pregnant two years ago, even though I felt very discouraged and disappointed with myself, but my aunt encouraged me to keep coming to class until I gave birth to my baby. However, it was not easy, because the toilet facility that we had was not safe or clean at all. I became more and more uncomfortable as the days went by. Finally, I used that as my excuse - I dropped out even before I was due.”

Peace stressed that even before she got pregnant, the sanitation facilities made it difficult for herself and her friends to be in school, especially when they were menstruating. It was common at the school for the girls to miss at least a week each month because it was preferable to be at home. She also added that because of this, many of her female classmates never came back.

The same situation was reported in Kpandai SDA Junior High School. Selina, a 14-year-old student shared her experience. “I found it very uncomfortable to come to school during my menses. The journey to my school from home is far. Even when I make through the journey and I get to class, I dreaded going to the bathroom each time. So, I decided it was better for me stay at home whenever my period came. I was missing many lessons, but it made life more bearable during those times.”

According to Selina, girls dropping out of school due to the lack of safe, gender-friendly sanitation facilities had gradually become a trend.

Selina Kekpere in front of the newly constricted changing room for girls in Kpandai SDA School, Northern Region.
Selina Kekpere in front of the newly constricted changing room for girls in Kpandai SDA School, Northern Region.

It usually starts by girls staying at home during the menstrual cycle and then slowly the time spent at home becomes extended for a mixture of intersecting reasons – financial constraints at home, distance from school and sometimes teenage pregnancy.

UNICEF - with support from the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) as part of the “Better Life for Girls” project - constructed urinals for the schools, which included dignified changing room for the girls. In all, 101 urinals with changing rooms have been constructed in 4 districts, reaching over 10,000 schoolgirls. The project was completed in 2020.

14-year-old Selina added: “Thanks to UNICEF and KOICA for supporting us to study. It’s no longer as difficult to come to school during those days. I wish more of these changing rooms would be made available in other spaces like community centers.”

Improving WASH facilities has created clearly noticeable and positive changes for girls. The headmaster of the Katiejeli Evangelical Presbyterian Junior High school, Mr. Anthony Kpebu said, “With the additional changing room, more girls feel confident since have a safe space where they can have a bath and change, anytime they need to. It helps girls to stay in school and participate actively during lessons.”

Perhaps, it is more gratifying that Peace returned to school after her teachers and aunt encouraged her to go back. With the addition of the new changing room, learning is much easier, and school is a safer place. “The new changing room is very comfortable, and I supervise some of the students to clean it clean regularly. We are grateful for this.”

Safe sanitation in school is key in achieving gender parity. Increased collaboration between education and sanitation sectors, ensuring gender sensitive WASH facilities and advocating for more durable WASH facilities in school can bring Ghana closer to achieving Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Peace standing in front of the changing room constructed for girls in the school.
Peace standing in front of the changing room constructed for girls in the school.