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23 Million Girls Drop Out Of School Every Year, And It Might Just Increase Now

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

Education for girls in India depends on a multitude of factors. Factors like safety, transportation, social stigmas and perceptions all play a role in determining whether or not a girl gets educated. Aside from having schools that are accessible to girls, specific challenges that girls face while receiving an education need to be addressed. One such factor is the existence of WASH in educational spaces.

What Is WASH?

WASH, or Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene. WASH functions on the principle that every child has a right to safe and clean water, toilets, hygiene practices, and a sanitary environment. Without them, children are more vulnerable to diseases, which detriments not only their health but also their overall development.

Do Better WASH Facilities Influence Girls’ Education?

A lack of WASH in educational spaces directly impacts if a girl will attend school or college. It has been well documented that many girls, especially in rural areas, do not have access to schools with washrooms or drinking water.

In March, education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal said that more than 15,000 government schools do not have toilets, and more than 42,000 do not have access to drinking water. Studies have also shown that even in schools, many are unusable, locked, or had no separate facilities for girls. Further, a 2020 CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) report found that 55% of government schools did not have basic hand-washing facilities.

Due to this, girls routinely drop out of school. A 2015 report by Dasra says that 23% of girls drop out of school after reaching puberty because of inadequate sanitation, water, or toilets. WASH in women’s education requires an understanding of how it impacts different aspects of girls’ lives, thereby determining whether or not they can or will continue their studies.

WASH And Health

UNICEF attests that when schools have clean toilets, clean water, and handwashing facilities, the possibility of transmission of communicable diseases reduces. Children are more likely to get water-borne diseases, making these facilities even more important in schools so that they can regularly wash their hands and stay safe. A lack of proper sanitation also risks students from contracting diarrhoea, which kills 289,000 children under 5 per year worldwide.

Moreover, this becomes a greater health concern for girls because they are more prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) and not visiting the bathroom when one needs to increase the bacteria count, thereby raising the risk for infections. On the other hand, unhygienic bathrooms are also an incubus for bacteria, which again begets UTIs. In the event that a girl does contract a UTI, she ends up missing her education for even longer.

WASH and Menstruation

Another crucial aspect of girls’ health that determines their school participation is menstruation and if toilets, sanitation, water, and other related facilities are available to accommodate them. Most girls drop out of school when they begin their period or do not attend the days they get their period because of unsatisfactory infrastructure and menstrual waste management.

Schools that do have toilets must maintain a sanitised and hygienic environment since poor menstrual management can lead to health issues like UTI’s (which can create kidney problems), genital tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, alteration in pH balance of secretions, etc.

The need for schools to engage with menstruation among adolescent girls goes beyond the existence of washrooms. Schools also need to educate their students about menstruation and work to dismantle the connotations and stigma around it. This will further encourage girls to attend school and will enable them to better contribute to themselves and society.

WASH And Safety

Safety is undoubtedly a concern for every woman in India. Women who do not have access to toilets are compelled to use public spaces and facilities, which put them at greater risk for violence and sexual assault. Parents are more likely to send their girls to schools if they know that this basic necessity is taken care of and that their daughters will be safe. Similarly, girls will also feel comfortable attending school without the fears that come with the prospect of using toilets in public. Thus a healthier learning environment will be created, which will ultimately help them grow.

WASH, therefore, has a significant place in the education of girls. Girls will attend school if they do not have to worry about their health, menstruation, and safety. The establishment of safe and hygienic toilets and water facilities will move them past these basic concerns so that their focus is solely on their education when they are at school.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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