“I will miss the education, but there is no option”
– Taemwa, Ethiopia
“When I had stomach problems, it urged me to go to the toilet now and then. If I am in the class room I will ask permission to go out and defecate. But that is not always easy. Especially If I need to go out more than once, I get shy to do that. Since I also travel to a distant place to go to the field, it takes some time. I will miss the education, but there is no option. If I’m sick I will either have to remain at home or ask permission again and again.”
Education is the door to stopping the cycle of poverty, and toilets are the key to that door. Sadly, most often in developing countries, this key isn’t accessible. According to Toilet Twinning more than half of primary schools in developing countries don’t have access to water and sanitation. Lack of toilets plays a key role in a child’s education. The lack of privacy and unhygienic defecation sites result in many children missing and sometimes eventually dropping out of school altogether. Toilets are a necessity in schools for both the good of the students and the teachers.
Even though there has been significant progress worldwide in education, the challenge to get girls to stay in school is far from over. When a girl reaches puberty access to a safe, clean toilet can make a huge difference. Lack of clean water to wash themselves during their monthly cycles and a private place to dispose of their pads, makes a huge difference in whether or not girls come to school during their monthly periods. Irregular attendance, may result in lower grades and, in some cases, may mean that the girl drops out of school altogether.
UNICEF estimates that one in 10 school-age African girls either skips school during menstruation or drops out entirely because of lack of sanitation. CNN correspondent Isha Sesay focuses on this fact. “With their educations cut short, the chances of these girls breaking the cycle of poverty they were born into is all but eliminated.” Millions of girls are unable to fulfill their full potential because of lack of toilets. According to WaterAid, “in 47 out of 54 African countries , girls have a less than 50% chance of going to secondary school.” With more girls dropping out of school due to lack of toilets, countries are facing long term impacts on economy as the potential workforce diminishes.
When we consider keeping children in school, improvements in the area of sanitation within schools is an important part of the effort. Providing adequate toilets and teaching students about proper hygiene can significantly reduce hygiene related diseases, increase school attendance and learning, and contribute to a child’s dignity.