Basic accommodations such as hot showers, access to flushing indoor toilets, and the availability of restrooms in schools can be easily taken for granted. Having intrinsic needs met reduces stress, worries and fears. Access to adequate water and sanitation facilities is crucial for school children to avoid the risks of illnesses which may cause them to be absent. Single sex facilities are especially important for girls who are at a higher risk of missing school if menstrual hygiene cannot be practiced.
The Data/the facts
According to the GEM Education Progress Report, fewer than half of primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa have access to single-sex sanitation facilities. Starting in 1996, legislative reforms brought substantial improvements in Senegal’s water supply and sanitation sector (“Senegal,” 2020). However, despite basic water access service now reaching 81 percent of the Senegalese population, still only 9% of primary schools, 48% of lower secondary and 29% of upper secondary schools have single-sex sanitation facilities.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 addresses the need to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Target 4.a and indicator 4.a.1 stresses the necessity to build and upgrade education facilities that are gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all. Indicator 4.a.1f more specifically addresses the need for single-sex basic sanitation facilities. (UN SDG, n.d)
Girls are particularly affected by limited access to single sex facilities in school because of the challenges they encounter when practicing menstrual hygiene, such as lack of privacy and safety, making them more vulnerable to dropping out from school (“GEM Report Education Progress,” n.d.).
In Senegalese society, menstruation is still a taboo subject with menstrual blood being considered “an impurity, a filth, an evil substance.” Due to this societal norm, menstruation must be handled with great discretion (“Statistics,”n.d.).
School aged menstruating girls, often labeled as impure or contaminated, suffer the most from limited or no access to private toilets. (“Menstrual Hygiene Management,” n.d.) Unlike their male classmates, they are often subjected to feelings of shame and embarrassment, discouraging them from attending school altogether. (“Changing Perceptions,” 2018).
A study of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in the Kedougou region, Senegal, undertaken by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and UN Women shows that “over 40% of the girls surveyed said that they missed school for at least one day per month” during their periods noting the absence of infrastructure as a reason for staying home. Indeed, the study revealed that none of the toilet facilities visited “had made provision for menstruating women to wash, clean themselves and change with privacy and dignity.” (“Menstrual Hygiene Management,” n.d.).
Young girls missing school due to a lack of appropriate infrastructure not only lowers self-esteem and perpetuates gender inequalities, but also translates into graver lifelong ramifications originating from dropping out of school leading to fewer opportunities that an education can offer (“Changing Perceptions,” 2018).
Actions taken today
As the WSSCC and UN Women study and statistics show, there is an urgent need to address the lack of single-sex sanitation facilities in Senegal. One important point to emphasize is that one cannot talk about single sex sanitation facilities without addressing the importance of menstrual hygiene management. However, despite its implications on young girls’ education and future, MHM is still a very low priority by many in the education and sanitation sector (“Changing Perceptions,” 2018).
Speak Up Africa is one organization based out of Dakar, Senegal that has introduced the importance of discussing menstrual hygiene management. One of their programs, the Africa Sanitation Policy and Advocacy Activator, supports sanitation initiatives that empower women (“Africa Sanitation,” 2018).
In 2013, WASH United, a German non-profit, started Menstrual Hygiene Day, a worldwide collaboration of 500 partners, from non profits, government agencies and the private sector, working together to bring awareness and advocacy about the importance of menstrual hygiene for all women and girls (“About Menstrual,” n.d.).
SIMAVI, PATH and WASH United and the social media campaign #menstruationmatters highlight how menstrual hygiene matters to achieve sustainable development goals, which do not specifically name and address MHM. An infographics they created in 2017 recommends several strategies to increase awareness and meet SDG4. One of them is to integrate education about MHM and puberty into school curricula. Another one is to build the capacity of teachers to teach about these issues with comfort (Menstruation matters, 2017). Women Deliver, another organization advocating for gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women around the world has made progress by bringing awareness to large international nonprofits during their 2016 conference. The International Committee of the Red Cross for example, facilitated a demonstration on how to make reusable sanitary pads (“2030 Agenda,” 2016.).
The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) of WHO and UNICEF has proposed the following definition and standards for women and adolescent girls to be able to manage menstruation hygienically and with dignity (“MHM,” n.d.) :
Based on this definition the addition of a few strategies would improve the SDG indicator 4a.1 to address menstrual hygiene management needs. I suggested adding:
- h) menstrual hygiene materials to absorb or collect menstrual blood,
- i) water and soap within a place that provides an adequate level of privacy for changing materials or washing stains from clothes and drying reusable menstrual materials
- j) disposal facilities for used menstrual materials (from collection point to final disposal)
- k) accurate and pragmatic information (for females and males) about menstruation and menstrual hygiene (“MHM,” n.d.).
Adding these points to SDG4 would truly be a catalyst for change, making MHM an official issue to solve to allow women to thrive in today’s world.
In their paper, “Making the Case for a Female-Friendly Toilet”, Schmitt et al. also propose an amazing a female-friendly toilet design which I hope will start conversations among designers and policy makers bringing comfort and safety to millions of girls and women (Schmitt et al., 2018, p.5).
The 2030 Agenda: What role does menstrual hygiene play? (2016). Global Citizen. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/menstruation-hygiene-day-girls/
About Menstrual Hygiene Day. (n.d.). MHDay | Global. https://menstrualhygieneday.org/about/about-mhday/
Africa Sanitation Policy and Advocacy Activator ⋆ Speak Up Africa. (2018, December 20). Speak Up Africa. https://www.speakupafrica.org/program/africa-sanitation-policy-and-advocacy-activator/?color=blue
Changing Perceptions Around Menstrual Hygiene Management and Why It’s Important ⋆ Speak Up Africa. (2018, November 13). Speak Up Africa. https://www.speakupafrica.org/changing-perceptions-around-menstrual-hygiene-management-and-why-its-important/
GEM Report Education Progress. (n.d.). GEM Report Education Progress. https://www.education-progress.org/en/articles/quality/
Integrated School Health Program for Child Survival. (n.d.). Amref Health Africa in the USA. https://www.amrefusa.org/where-we-work/senegal/integrated-school-health-program-for-child-survival/
MHM: Menstrual Hygiene Management. (n.d.). MHDay | Global. https://menstrualhygieneday.org/about/why-menstruationmatters/
Menstrual Hygiene Management: Behaviour and Practices in The Kedougou Region, Senegal. (n.d.). WSSCC UN WOMEN. https://www.wsscc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Briefing-Note-%E2%80%93-Menstrual-Hygiene-Management-Behaviour-and-Practices-in-the-Kedougou-Region-Senegal-WSSCC-UN-Women.pdf
Schmitt, M., Clatworthy, D., Ogello, T., & Sommer, M. (2018). Making the Case for a Female-Friendly Toilet. Water, 10(9), 1193. https://doi.org/10.3390/w10091193
Senegal. (2020, February 28). Globalwaters.org. https://www.globalwaters.org/WhereWeWork/Africa/Senegal
Statistics on Menstrual Hygiene in Senegal, Niger and Cameroon Are Now Available; Product of Action-research in the Joint WSSCC-UN Women Program. (n.d.). UN Women | Africa. https://africa.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/stories/2018/02/des-statistiques-sur-lhygiene-menstruelle-au-senegal-au-niger-et-au-cameroun-disponibles
WASH United Simavi (2017). Menstruation matters to everyone, everywhere. https://menstrualhygieneday.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/MHDay_MHM-SDGs_2017_RGB_fin.pdf