Lack of clean toilets in schools contributes to the decline in education among girls across the country.
About 90% of toilets in primary and secondary schools in the country have not met the standards recommended by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) to enable female students to maintain hygiene during menstruation.
A survey conducted by the Zanzibar Journal, during the celebrations to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day found that many schools in the country have poor toilet facilities that cause girls’ drop out during menstruation.
Menstrual Hygiene Day is marked on May 28 annually. This is because the menstrual cycle usually lasts 28 days and menstrual cramps or bleeding occurs within five days.
Most school toilets in the country, especially public ones, have no doors, are dirty and have no electricity or light inside.
A survey at Kinuni primary school in Unguja West ‘A’ District has indicated girls’ toilets are not enough, dilapidated and without doors.
At a nearby Kijitoupele primary school, the situation is similar, the toilets are dark when the doors are closed so it is difficult for female students to clean themselves during menstruation.
At Kijini secondary school in Unguja North Region, where about 90% of girls go through menstruation, the toilets are also faulty and built of galvanized iron.
Many school toilets in rural Unguja and Pemba Islands are also dilapidated and are not even close to meeting the 50% standard set by Unicef.
According to Unicef guidelines, girls school toilets should be more than boys’ toiletsbecause girls spend more time in the toilets than boys.
The guidelines note that when female students are in schools, 20 percent of them are likely to be in the menstrual cycle and when they go to the toilets they need more time to clean themselves.
The guidelines instruct that girls’ toilets should have wall mirrors through which girls can check themselves to ensure that blood droplets are not found on their clothes.
“When a girl has drops of blood on her clothes, she can be laughed at or ridiculed by her classmates, thus making her shy away from school. The time they waste at homes during menstruation causes many of them to perform poorly in school,” says Unicef.
Studies have shown that boys or men take an average of 60 seconds in the toilet but girls or women take at least 90 seconds.
“That means that if girls’ toilets are few or the same number as the boys’ toilets, there will be long queues,” say Unicef guidelines.
Unicef recommends a ratio of one toilet for boys and three toilets for girls in which soap and clean water should always be available.
The Mbuzini primary school’s headmaster, Fatma Rashid says that girls from the age of 16 in the village face great hygienic challenges during menstruation periods.
“Many girls rush to the bathrooms during menstruation periods to clean up. But if toilets do not have doors, where will they clean themselves? There is a need to build more toilets in schools in the area,” she says.
She adds that unhygienic toilet environment makes many girls to stay at homes during menstruation periods which has contributed to the decline of education in the area.
“The trauma of a girl during menstruation puts her education at risk,” she said and added that the biggest challenge face girls with disabilities in inclusive schools.
The World Vision says that despite government efforts, civil society organizations and individuals to ensure that girls and women achieve respectable menstruation environments, there are still many challenges they face.
“Bad smells in toilets, lack of doors and other loopholes make many girls very anxious,” the agency said in a statement and added lack of water in many school toilets for girls to clean themselves makes the situation worse.
“Menstruation is a secret issue and girls should have enough sanitary pads. Most of them have one pad and many of them reuse it which is dangerous to their health,” she says.
The official said lack of toilets, clean water and sanitary pads discriminate girls in schools during menstruation periods.
“We receive reports that many girls are being ridiculed by their male counterparts especially during menstruation periods,” the report said.
The menstrual cycle for a girl is an issue that is often not discussed in public due to religious and cultural beliefs.
There is a need for parents to keep the budget for sanitary pads in line with school stationery as it is a special need for girls in schools.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the use of one toilet for 30 male or 25 female students. That means a school with 500 female students should have 20 toilets.
It is estimated that a total of 130 million girls are out of school worldwide due to various reasons including
lack of infrastructure to enable them to maintain hygiene during menstruation.
The Unicef estimates that 1 in 10 girls is forced to stay home during menstruation and that some girls lose 20 percent of their schooling due to menstruation. The situation causes some girls to drop out of schools.
In addition to poor toilets, studies have shown that nearly 60 percent of girls cannot afford to spend on pads and should compel the governments to provide sanitary pads in schools to enable girls to continue their studies smoothly during menstruation periods.
“Governments have been providing free condoms in public places. Similarly, they should provide sanitary pads in schools,” recommends the Unicef.
A 2016 study conducted in Kenya by FSG Consulting under the auspices of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that culture and religious beliefs are among the major challenges facing girls during menstruation.
The study found that 50 percent of girls were unable to discuss menstrual issues at homes while vast majority of girls were unable to discuss the issue of menstruation with their mothers.
It also found that only 32% of rural schools in Sub Sahara Africa have special rooms for female students to change sanitary pads during menstruation and that a large number of girls were given sanitary pads by their male partners.