Celebrate Solutions: Improving Sanitation Facilities for Girls and Women

By: Yousra Yusuf, Women Deliver

In a Celebrate Solutions column earlier this month, we saw how financial constraints can lead menstruating women to resort to unsanitary alternatives instead of disposable pads in India and other developing countries. Unfortunately, monetary restrictions are not the only obstacles preventing women from maintaining proper menstrual hygiene. Lack of access to sanitary facilities prevents girls and women around the world from reaching their potential in terms of health, education, productivity and self-empowerment. This past year, BRAC, a non-profit organization based in Bangladesh, celebrated tremendous progress made in incorporating menstrual hygiene management into its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program.

In 2008, at the first South Asia Sanitation and Hygiene Practitioner’s workshop, menstrual hygiene management was recognized as a neglected issue within the WASH program. Participants highlighted the ways in which unsanitary and coed toilet facilities prevent many girls from attending or enrolling in school. Some schools only had one latrine, and often times these latrines were reserved for teachers. Menstruating girls had no place to attend to their needs, and so often resorted to unsanitary practices or simply stayed at home. The results were plain to see—in 2004, 60% of the 113 million children not enrolled in schools were girls.

In response, BRAC, WaterAid, the International Water and Sanitation Centre and other partners joined forces to develop strategies for ensuring menstrual hygiene management in toilet design and accessibility to affordable menstrual care products. Components of the WASH program have included installing latrines with dumping facilities in rural areas of the country, and implementing the Secondary School Sanitation Program. Student-led School Brigades have begun working in over 1,200 secondary schools to ensure proper use and maintenance of latrines, and school teachers in 150 upazilas (sub-districts) have been provided with WASH-led trainings on menstrual hygiene. Impact is also visible at the household level: In Mymensingh Sadar sub-district, the WASH program resulted in the construction of approximately 522 latrines and sanitation coverage increased from 19.58% to 25.13%.

Last year, BRAC and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a partnership aimed at scaling up the WASH program to improve sanitation services for an additional 1.2 million people. Now, partners are moving forward to develop new capacity-building and awareness materials, advocacy strategies and low-cost approaches in menstrual hygiene management.

To read more about BRAC-WASH, click here.

Flickr photo via Waterdotorg

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