Dhaka, Oct 21 (UNB) – Although the government in 2015 ordered all the educational institutions to ensure gender-friendly sanitation facilities, separate toilets for girls and plastic containers nearby still remain a far cry.
Keeping girls’ health risks in mind, the Education Ministry issued a circular in 2015 asking the authorities of educational institutions to ensure the above facilities.
However, no real progress has so far been made in this regard.
A few officials from the Education Ministry admitted non-execution of the order while investigation by this correspondent at some city schools also found it to be true.
Sumaiya, a 10th grader at Gulshan Model School and College, said she does not drink water after arriving in school, as there are no separate toilets for girls in their institution. “I avoid using toilet at my school,” she said blaming dirty conditions of toilets for her reluctance.
Despite half of the school’s students being girls, lack of toilets for them is also complemented with lack of facilities to handle emergency situations when they suffer from their monthly menstrual periods.
Zaman Mostofa, principal of the institution, told UNB that despite the absence of separate toilets for girls, the environment is quite hygienic for everyone.
He does not find it as problem for the female students. Regardless, they are working on constructing female toilets and taking necessary steps to handle female health emergencies, he said.
Officials at the Secondary and Higher Education Division of the Education Ministry said although a circular was issued back in 2015, it has not been carried out, especially in the rural areas where female toilets and sanitation conditions are non-existent.
In the circular, it was said that hygienic toilets would have to be built and those would have to be supervised by respective managing committees, who would also keep a separate fund in this regard and hire personnel to maintain its hygiene and cleanliness.
It also said teachers can lead sub-committees to oversee toilet hygiene, along with scouts and girl guides.
Another teacher would be in charge of consultation regarding the issue of girls’ menstrual cycles in schools. If required, sanitary napkins and pads could be purchased on payment in the schools.
Eleven such orders were mentioned in the circular, which also stated that an unclean and unhygienic environment affects the attendance of girls in schools and the failure of maintaining 80 percent in attendance also hampers their chances for obtaining scholarships.
Local NGOs were also requested to promote this issue and visit their local education institutions twice a month as part of their monitoring.
In a 2014 primary level baseline survey, it was found that there was one toilet for every 187 students in Bangladesh. Some 45 percent of existing toilets in schools remain permanently closed, with others having minimal water supply or inadequate soaps.
Some students from Badda Alatunnessa High School revealed their lack of knowledge about the 2015 government circular. The authorities know about it but did not carry out its instructions till now.
Tania, a Class-IX student of the school, said she does not know which teacher the school has assigned to talk about their menstrual problems and this is why she does not attend school during her menstrual periods.
Upon investigating Siddheswari College, it was found that there are no plastic bins with lids on them. Girls who are going through menstrual periods do not have any place to discard their sanitary pads and have to go home in order to change into a fresh one.
Development Organisation of the Rural Poor (DORP) has been working on girl students’ sanitation issues for a long time. Its director for research and planning Zubair Hasan told UNB that sanitation issue is the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for which the government took it very seriously and issued the circular.
He added that the schools will have to be more aware about the issue and increase funds to build toilets for girls.
Dr Alvina Mustari, Deputy Director of Reproductive Health Services Training and Education Program (RHSTEP), told UNB that toilets for girls are necessary to maintain their health and hygiene. Lack of toilets poses grave health hazards for them.
Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid said they have instructed all educational institutions to carry out the circular’s instructions, as good health is essential to attain quality education.
Strict actions will be taken against those who will not comply with the order, he said.
Asked why it was not implemented in the last three years, Nahid said appropriate actions will be taken as to why the schools have not yet constructed separate toilets for female students.