Let’s talk about bathrooms
by Katherine Surko, Batonga Foundation
Let’s talk about bathrooms. Yes, bathrooms!
I’ve always taken them for granted, and have just assumed that whenever I go to school, a restaurant, or any other public space, that there would be a clean, private, easily accessible facility. I never really thought about how my life would be different if I didn’t have access to a bathroom, and I never took into consideration the critical role they play in our everyday lives or how they affect access education.
For those who don’t have access to clean bathrooms, especially girls, there are major consequences. Not having access to separate, sanitary washrooms is particularly challenging for adolescent girls in Africa. In fact, according to UNICEF, 1 in 10 girls will either miss class or drop out of school completely once reaching adolescence. And as we all know, girls who go to school are better equipped to help themselves, their families, and their communities.
There are multiple reasons why bathrooms are critical to girls’ education. Without private bathrooms, young girls are forced to change their sanitary pads in front of the entire washroom. Imagine being a twelve-year-old girl and having to change your pad in front of a room full of your peers! It’s not hard to see why many girls find it easier to just stay home, especially in countries where menstruation is considered taboo or shameful. Many girls would prefer to just avoid all social contact during that time of the month.
In communities where sanitary pads are difficult to afford, many girls are resourceful and utilize reusable products made from old pieces of cloth and other materials. These products offer limited absorbency that require girls to use bathrooms multiple times a day during school, which isn’t always an option. When girls go to school with these make-do pads, they frequently have accidents that leave them too traumatized to attend school again during their period. UNICEF reports that in countries where menstruation is a taboo topic, girls in puberty miss an average of 20% of the school year. After falling so far behind, many of these girls drop out, simply because of a natural bodily process and the lack of a bathroom facility.
This is where the Batonga Foundation steps in. Our mission is to provide secondary school and higher education for girls in Africa. We provide holistic support that goes beyond school fees, supplies, and uniforms. For example, Batonga also provides sanitary pads and aims to ensure that the lack of clean drinking water and the absence of bathroom facilities are not additional obstacles when it comes to our girls attending school. Batonga recently installed latrines, water wells, and hand-washing stations at four schools in Benin in partnership with Africare and the African Well Fund. Now, 3,621 students have access to clean drinking water and bathrooms at their schools! We are planning to expand our work in water and sanitation in 2014.
We believe that every girl has the right to pursue her dreams, and the last thing that should stop her is the lack of a bathroom.
Katherine Surko is the Lead Intern at Batonga Foundation.