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Single-sex toilets needed to overcome girls' barriers to education,' says Unesco

Exclusive: Lack of proper sanitation an 'obstacle' to attending school, UN says

Harriet Agerholm
Thursday 08 March 2018 00:34 GMT
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Unesco is urging governments around the world to prioritise providing single-sex toilets in schools, warning as many as 1 in 10 girls in some countries are missing out on lessons because of their period.

The UN’s education body surveyed 189 countries as part of its sixth annual gender review, obtained exclusively by The Independent ahead of International Women’s Day.

While the report found some progress had been made in gender equality in education, it said one in three countries still failed to allow equal numbers of boys and girls into primary school.

“In 1990, the world committed to admitting equal numbers of boys and girls into primary school by 2005,” Audrey Azoulay, director-general of Unesco said.

“Since then we have set ourselves a more ambitious set of gender equality targets with a deadline of 2030, but we must not forget that, despite considerable progress, one in three countries have yet to achieve the original goal.”

One “obstacle” to girls attending school was a lack of segregated toilets in schools, review director Manos Antoninis said, adding the agency found there was “little focus” on menstrual hygiene in schools in 21 low and middle income countries.

“Improved sanitation to address adolescent girls’ concerns over privacy, particularly during menstruation, can influence their education decisions,” he said.

“Single-sex toilets are desperately needed to overcome girls’ barriers to education.”

In Bangladesh, 41 per cent of schoolgirls aged between 11 and 17 reported missing three days of school every month because of a lack of adequate sanitary care, according to the report.

Meanwhile, in rural areas of west African nations including Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia, less than a fifth of schools had four or more of Unesco’s five recommended menstrual hygiene services. These include separate sex toilets with doors and locks, water and rubbish bins.

The issue was not confined to those at secondary school, Unesco said, and primary schools also needed to introduce better toilet facilities to not discourage female pupils.

“In many countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, late enrolment and repetition means that girls in adolescence are still in primary school, which makes it crucial to ensure that single-sex sanitation facilities are present in primary as well as in secondary schools,” Mr Antoninis said. One in ten African girls miss school because of their period, the Unesco report found.

According to one study cited in the review, only 9 of 44 countries did more than 75 per cent of primary schools have single-sex facilities.

“Other challenges include fighting negative attitudes towards menstruation and increasing the provision of health information and facilities in schools,” Mr Antoninis said.

In rural Bolivia, for example, girls received limited information on menstrual hygiene from their parents. Unesco said the school curriculum in Bolivia needed to compensate for this.

Unesco also for the first time recommended children be taught about power dynamics between boys and girls in school.

Teaching children about the relationship between the genders in sex education classes would not only tackle gender-based violence, but also help reduce teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, Unesco said.

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