WASH facilities influence school attendance among adolescent girls

Millions of girls and women lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management

Ijeoma Onuoha-Ogwe, Communication Officer, UNICEF
 A girl washing her hands
28 May 2022

Fourteen-year-old Okwe Veronica Olushola in primary six is happy being in school. She likes to discuss issues like menstrual hygiene management among her peers and schoolmates in LGEA community primary school, Oju, Benue State.

There is no excuse for me to be absent from class when I get my period because at school, we have clean toilets and water to always keep us clean

Okwe Veronica Olushola

Seen among her peers, Okwe appears very confident to champion female-related causes without hesitation. “Through the UNICEF - FCDO supported WASH facilities and school health hygiene club, we discuss issues such as MHM freely without shame and also practice good hygiene by taking turns to keep the toilet and surrounding clean,” Okwe said.

“I encourage other girls to be at school even when on their periods, because if they are not, they will miss the lessons that will be taught, so I tell them to dress with pad, and then take some extra to school” 

A girl and her classmate writing in their classroom

Globally, millions of girls and women still lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities, particularly in public places such as  schools, workplaces or health centers, can pose a major obstacle to women and girls. The lack of separate toilets with doors that can be safely closed, or the unavailability of means to dispose of used sanitary pads and water to wash hands, means that women and girls face challenges in maintaining their menstrual hygiene in a private, safe and dignified manner.

Girls’ inability to manage their menstrual hygiene in schools, results in school absenteeism, which in turn, has severe economic costs on their lives and on the country.

Beyond infrastructure, menstruating girls and women face challenges rooted in social norms and beliefs. In many cultures, menstruating women are considered impure and are systematically excluded from participating in everyday activities, such as education, employment, cultural and religious practices. The taboos and stigmas attached to menstruation leads to an overall culture of silence around the topic, resulting in limited information on menstruation and menstrual hygiene which has ramifications on the health and dignity of girls and women.

Growing up in a clean and safe environment is every child’s right. Access to clean water, basic toilets, and good hygiene practices not only keeps children thriving, but also keeps girls in safe school environments.

“UNICEF will continue to advocate for increased funding to sustain hygiene activities globally. This includes fostering political leadership for hygiene activities at all levels and recruiting high-profile champions and political leaders as advocates,” said Mr. Doutimiye Kiakubu, WASH Specialist UNICEF Nigeria. 

In addition to ending period stigma, ensuring access to period products, and providing education on menstruation, with the aim of strengthening the hygiene sector to meet the SDGs by 2030, UNICEF works with government to strengthen policies, institutional arrangements, planning, financing, monitoring, and capacity development which are fundamental building blocks for sustainable improvement,” said Doutimiye.

Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day with the theme “Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030”. It is an annual awareness day to help break the silence and build awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in helping girls and women reach their full potential.