Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why Water is Vital to Girls' Education

(News) Quick, name the key factors needed for making sure girls get a good education in the poorest parts of the world. Books, teachers, pencils, paper and perhaps a classroom are at the top of most people's lists. But what about a separate, working latrine for girls?

An Ethiopian girl washes her hands in clean water
Photo credit: Kate Eshelby/WaterAid

Today (March 22) is World Water Day. It's hard for those of us who have grown up being able to drink safely out of tap and to rely on indoor plumbing to fully understand just how much of our health and well-being depends on clean water and proper sanitation. But the ability to go to the bathroom in private--especially after menstruation begins--and to be able to wash hands afterwards turns out to be a greater obstacle to girls' education than most people in rich countries realize.

This simple fact was highlighted at Columbia University in New York City on Tuesday in a seminar presented by WaterAid, a longtime international charity that started in the U.K., and the Earth Institute, the policy-education-services organization run by Economist Jeffrey Sachs.

A study in the West African country of Guinea showed that enrollment among girls increased 17% from 1997 to 2002 after handwashing facilities and separate latrines were installed--and maintained--for girls. A similar study from earlier in the 1990s showed a 15% increase in girls' enrollment in Bangladesh after latrines and hand-washing facilities were installed in schools.

That is why WaterAID, Unicef and others are focusing on getting basic latrines and hand-washing facilities into schools around the world. It helps both boys and girls stay healthy but the added benefit of boosting girls' attendance is especially strong.


Linda said...

As a volunteer for WaterAid Tanzania in Dar es Salaam, I saw first hand schools without toilets, schools with limited toilets shared by both boys and girls as well as latrines that were overflowing, falling apart and ridden with flies. I will never forget seeing a group of 6 girls huddled together in an old school latrine without doors protecting the one girl that was trying to go to the bathroom. I can't imagine having this kind of experience and the feelings that go with it on a daily basis. It's GREAT to know this issue is getting more attention. Let's keep doing and talking about this, because it really is unacceptable.

Christine Gorman said...

Linda: It certainly makes sense, but I had never thought about it until the conference this week at Columbia.