Students from GG Kinamba Primary school in Laikipia County display sanitary pads donated by P&G Kenya - Daily Nation, 2016
Talking about menstruation may make people feel uneasy, but challenging stigmatization begins with engaging in informed conversation. When conceptualizing spatial design, it is essential that this influential aspect of young women’s lives is taken into account when being applied to educational environments. In schools, inadequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services directly inhibit young women during menstruation.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 outlines achieving gender empowerment and equality for all women and girls. SDG 4 highlights the importance of inclusive and equitable quality education for all. SDG 6 ensures the availability and sustainability of water and sanitation by all. Access to adequate facilities with basic water, sanitation and hygiene standards are essential for the health and well-being of girls and boys of all ages, but poor quality services disproportionately impact adolescent girls struggling to manage their menstrual hygiene in school. Without proper access to adequate water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) services at school to promote healthy menstruation management, young women are often unable to fully participate in their education.
When WASH services are lacking in schools, girls reportedly concentrate and participate less in class, or are absent from school during menstruation. Studies have attributed this to fear of menstrual leaks, discomfort and stigmatization. Fears are also associated with unsafe or unsanitary toilet facilities where young women cannot discreetly dispose of menstrual products in a receptacle. Young women are mentally or physically removed from fundamental classroom learning because of this, leading to adverse effects to school performance and disproportionate chances for future success. Gender inequality continues to hold women back and deprives them of basic rights and opportunities. In order to practice proper menstrual hygiene, young women require safe and clean toilet facilities at school to stay present in the classroom. Sufficient facilities should supply soap and water for improved hygiene and offer privacy for changing materials and/or washing menstrual cloths.
Furthering young women’s concerns during menstruation is the lack of access to menstrual hygiene management products. A study conducted in Siaya County analyzed the impact provision of menstrual cups and pads had on girls’ lives compared to “traditional” materials, for example, cloth, bedding or paper. The study found that young women feared leakage, odour, discomfort and dislodgement when using traditional methods. Low-income families often encounter financial barriers to meet basic menstrual hygiene needs, as noted by a recent study. If a family’s financial contributions are focused on menstrual hygiene, they may not be able to afford other basic needs, which can negatively influence their quality of life and educational outcomes.
A report by Save the Children noted that Nairobi City County provided free soap and disinfectants to schools in 2014, with Kenya’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology supporting menstrual hygiene management by providing sanitary towels at no cost every school term. But the application of this has been described as inconsistent and slow moving.
The Kenya Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene Policy reports that vulnerable individuals, such as women and children, will be given priority attention in environmental sanitation promotion. The planning, development, and implementation of WASH services must therefore address the special needs, interests and priorities of girls to ensure sufficient accessibility and usage of the facilities. A child enabling educational environment is a safe, inclusive space with access to WASH services. WASH in schools can reduce gender inequalities and result in efficient, equitable learning, according to research.
Educational institutions have the opportunity and responsibility to ensure that girls are accommodated in schools and to collaborate with other key stakeholders, such as government agencies, to provide the basic amenities. Professionals engaging in WASH programming should be aware of and incorporate human rights principles in their interventions. Adequate WASH practices in educational environments can improve the well-being, quality of life, self-esteem, and self-confidence of a young girl and encourage stigma-free access to education.
Kristin Swardh is an EAI Research Assistant, conducting research on child enabling environments in Kenya.