Latrines and tippy taps help more girls attend school in Ghana

In many communities in Ghana, the lack of adequate latrines, hand-washing facilities and feminine hygiene products keeps girls from attending school during menstruation.

Fusheina and her friends at Rajia JHS use play methodologies to learn about menstrual hygiene management and good sanitary practices.

Skipping school when menstruating

Sixteen-year-old Fusheina Abibatu hopes to become a nurse. She knows that attending school and studying hard will enable her to achieve her goals. As a level two student at Rajia Junior High School (JHS), she is behind students her age in other parts of the country who are already in senior high school. Fusheina explains,

“I used to skip school when menstruating,” she says. “Because I could soil myself and be mocked by the other students, especially the boys.”

Removing the barriers that stop girls going to school

In Zabzugu and other communities in Ghana, the lack of adequate latrines, hand-washing facilities and feminine hygiene products keeps girls from attending school during menstruation.

In addition, myths and negative perceptions about menstrual hygiene are widespread while discussions about the topic are considered indecent and shameful.

Creating a better environment for pupils like Fusheina and her friends to achieve their dreams is part of the Canadian-funded Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Schools and Communities project, which operate in five regions of Ghana. In 2012, UNICEF and Right to Play, a non-governmental organization, started a WASH program for children and youth.

A well rounded approach to hygiene

Kipo Habib, a Right to Play project officer in northern Ghana, said the WASH project uses a comprehensive approach and it has increased knowledge of menstrual hygiene as one component. He says that other goals of the project include:

  • helping teachers learn to use sports and a play methodology for classroom activities
  • educating pupils and communities about the health issues related to going to the bathroom in the outdoors
  • providing water and sanitation facilities

Kipo said that key actors from Rajia JHS, and teachers and staff at the District Education Unit, receive training and participate in the school-led activities to learn about WASH-related behaviors.

Agent of change in the community

Through the program, Fusheina has become an agent of change in her community as she promotes sanitation and hygiene.

“My school organizes drama productions which address proper hand-washing with soap and the dangers of open air defecation” she says.

“During morning assembly, they talk to us about health issues. We also have frequent discussions about health and we watch demonstrations on how to construct and use tippy taps.”

(A tippy tap is a simple and hygienic device to wash hands with soap and running water.) In fact, her school won a district interschool quiz competition on health and was awarded a carton of soap, machetes and a set of football jerseys.

Moving away from open air defecation

Fusheina also explained that her household used to practise open air defecation but this has reduced dramatically. She looks forward to a time when the practice is totally eradicated from her community.

“My household has one latrine and it serves 22 people,” explains Fusheina.

“It is fitted with a tippy tap and soap for hand washing but this is not enough. We are being supported to build latrines and use them so we don’t get sick from defecating in the open.”

On menstruation, Fusheina explained that there is now a “health prefect” she can go to for support when menstruating.

“The health prefect provides us with free sanitary pads on demand so we don’t have to go home to change,” she said.

Successful program repeated in other communities

The WASH-related activities at Rajia JHS are being replicated in 265 other communities in Ghana. Statistics provided by UNICEF Ghana show that after three years:

  • more than 45,000 pupils in 150 schools now have access to safe drinking water
  • more than 17,000 girls have been trained in menstrual health management
  • more than 56, 000 children have been reached with sanitation and hygiene education messages and now regularly practise hand washing with soap
  • 67 schools have been provided with improved latrines
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