Toilet truths flush school dreams - Unicef report links poor loo facilities with girl dropouts

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  • Published 21.11.13

Ranchi, Nov. 20: The lid is off a basic reason why generations of girls drop out of school, never discovering their potential.

Schools, state-run or otherwise, may have a toilet, but if existing loos lack basics such as privacy or water, girls prefer to stay at home. Reason — they feel too unsafe and ashamed to answer nature’s call or take care of personal hygiene during menstruation.

A detailed research on life skills and menstrual hygiene behaviour among adolescent girls and women across two Jharkhand districts, conducted by Unicef in July, bared this stark truth cloaked in shame and silence.

Unicef will share the findings with the state government at a workshop tomorrow.

Unicef surveyed 4,500 respondents in Gumla and East Singhbhum, in which 1,800 were girls. Among girls, 600 had not started their periods, while the rest had.

What emerged was the bald fact that lack of washrooms, a toilet door without a bolt or with a crack, lack of water inside loos are all powerful enough to drive countless girls away from school forever.

The findings were uncomfortable truths that everyone knew but no one wanted to readily talk about.

A whopping 61 per cent of girls said they didn’t use toilets in schools. When asked why, three-fourths of them said the infrastructure was “inadequate”.

Worryingly, schoolgirls said they’d prefer not to go to school if facilities remained elusive.

Some 23 per cent schoolgirls prefer to absent themselves during “those days”. A whopping 93 per cent said they missed at least two days, while six per cent said they stayed at home the entire duration of their periods.

According to Unicef chief of field (Jharkhand) Job Zachariah, this was the first study in the state on an issue that carries so much of silence.

“Nobody is ready to talk on this subject, which gives us reason to think how much social taboo is ingrained in people. Even international studies reflect absence of toilets is the reason behind absenteeism and dropouts,” he told The Telegraph.

Zachariah pointed out the moot question was not if schools had toilets, but if facilities worked.

The state HRD department agreed that the presence of toilets on paper should be verified with ground realities. “I agree. We need to check if constructed toilets have available facilities,” said its principal secretary K. Vidyasagar, admitting maintenance was another serious concern.

“Construction of a toilet building and provision of facilities apart, it is daily maintenance that makes lavatories functional. Water supply and regular cleanliness are issues we need to check up on,” he said. The Unicef research report also revealed 70 per cent respondents were unprepared for menarche.

Mothers, teachers and grassroots health workers have either not informed girls about this important change or themselves propagate myths about menstruation. Less than three per cent menstruating girls have spoken with an anganwadi worker or sahiya or an auxiliary nurse-cum-midwife on this critical health issue.

To correct this gap, Unicef, with MNC Johnson & Johnson, will launch “Breaking the Taboo” in Gumla and East Singhbhum, addressing three lakh adolescent girls on bodily changes and hygiene.