The Role of Sanitation in the Girl Child’s Education
This blog post originally appeared on the HEEALS Developing Community Network website on 12 February 2013.
This documentary film explores the importance of clean, hygienic toilets and safe drinking water in Indian schools to ensure that girls are empowered to exercise their right to education. It has been said that India is the open defaecation capital of the world, where people have more mobile phones than toilets. In the film, the non-profit organisation HEEALS (Health Education Environment and Livelihood Society) communicates about and advocates for the need to address the fact that only 44 per cent of schools in India have separate toilets for girls, and some schools only have a single toilet that is so unclean – and that carries not only the risk of disease but the risk of sexual harassment – that girls opt to drop out of school.
This is particularly the case with adolescent girls, who may lack access to a vending machine at school with sanitary napkins during menstruation. (According to HEEALS, there is a lack of knowledge among the girl community in rural areas about basic menstrual hygiene; the organisation is working to address this and the other issues highlighted in the film through its “Sanitation, Water, Girl Education & Menstrual Hygiene Awareness Project”.)
The 10-minute, 21-second documentary features some quotations from organisations like the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with data about the problem. Also, it includes the voices of many girls and women talking about their experiences at school (as students and teachers) with regard to sanitation and hygiene. Many discuss the importance of hygiene in the context of girls’ education; for example, teachers can spark behaviour change about sanitation if there are clean toilets, and a clean environment heightens awareness about sanitation amongst women and girls – in turn possibly leading them to push for change in their own neighbourhood and later, when they have children of their own. Suggestions include advocacy: demand that school authorities provide clean and separate toilets. There are also examples included of the work that HEEALS is undertaking to create awareness among students about why hygiene is so crucial; several events show girls speaking out in public fora about the importance of education for girls.
To learn more about HEEALS, please click here.