In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Ghana WASH Project compiled stories from the field highlighting women’s and girls’ challenges in the WASH sector, as well as their contributions to improving their communities.
Improved Sanitation Enables Better Education Experiences for Girls (Adusa, Greater Accra Region)
Adusa Municipal Assembly Primary School, located in Ga West municipality, in the Greater Accra Region, is one of the schools targeted by the Ghana WASH Project to receive an institutional latrine to improve its sanitation situation. The school, with more than 600 students at the primary and junior high school level, has lobbied unsuccessfully for years to the Municipal Assembly for additional sanitation support.
For more than a decade, the school and administration had sought additional support from both the Municipal Assembly and townspeople without success, said Mrs. Peace Kumordzie, the assistant head teacher, who has been at Adusa M/A for 15 years.
The Municipal Assembly had provided one pit latrine in 1995. It has fallen into disrepair; even the assembly’s name is now barely discernable on the latrine’s semi-collapsed roof.
Finally, a few years ago, the school took it upon itself to build a latrine. Enlisting the help of a dozen male junior high school students and two male teachers, a latrine structure was completed. Unfortunately, the craftsmanship was not sound. Very soon after, the structure collapsed.
Three years ago, a nearby church that was holding activities in the area provided a small, wooden latrine. “This is the one we are using now, Mrs. Kumordzie said, “but it’s not in good condition. She motioned toward the wooden structure behind the school.
At present, there are three structures on the school grounds: one makeshift, semi-open latrine assembled of wood, and two small pit latrines, one constructed by the Municipal Assembly and another by the nearby Assemblies of God church, both of which are now dilapidated or collapsed. The only viable facility at the school for the administration and students is the wooden latrine.
Although the Municipal Assembly was unable to provide additional support directly to the school, it did work with the Ghana WASH Project to identify this school among those most in need. The administration and students eagerly wait for the construction on the GWASH-provided latrine to be completed.
For the female students at the school, the current situation has particularly challenging ramifications. For these young girls, when they feel the urge to relieve themselves or urinate, they simply hold it until the end of the day. When the end of the day comes, they go as fast as they can in search of somewhere private – those who live nearby can rush home quickly; but for those who live further away, their option will be the bush.
When asked about whether trying to “hold it” during school hours interfered with their lessons, the girls said it made it more difficult to concentrate in class. “We’ll be shaking!” said Abigail, a primary student. She trembled from head to toe as she mimicked the physical challenge. The girls around her laughed at her imitation, but nodded their heads in its truth. Some boys also hold it, they said, but not as many as the girls.
The girls said most of them refuse to use the urinal at the school. “The boys will peep [at us] because there’s no door,” one girl said. As a semi-open structure, the urinal has maximum air ventilation, but minimal privacy for its users. The lack of a door on the girls’ side further reduces any semblance of privacy they might have if they went there. From inside the urinal, one can easily see all activity on the school grounds. At recess, children are in easy view, playing ball and other games. In return, anyone inside the urinal would likely be easily viewable as well. In addition, when the girls’ side is empty, small boys also freely use that side.
“We are afraid and shy, so we don’t go there,” one girl said. “We don’t want to expose ourselves.”
When girls begin puberty and have to deal with their monthly menses, they have few comfortable options. Some girls use pullovers, tying them at their waists to try to hide the evidence, said Emily Vormawor, a teacher and School-Based Health Coordinator who co-leads the school’s School Health Education Program (SHEP) with her teacher colleague Linda Bekoe. “Many girls go home to change,” she said, admitting that this often translates into missed class time when the girls don’t return back to school.
Institutional Latrine Providing Space, Convenience for Young Girls
In the Central Region, one school that has received an institutional latrine is seeing immensely positive impacts for its female students. Last year, Assin Kumasi Junior High School, located in Assin South district, received a latrine through the Ghana WASH Project. Today, Maybelle and Comfort, two of the school’s students, can testify to the positive change they have experienced. The young girls, dressed in their school uniform of an orange collared shirt and brown jumper, smile openly as they discuss their experiences before and after receiving the latrine.
Before the latrine was constructed, Maybelle said she and her friends would venture into the nearby bush to find a spot to go. “We would just go around and see any convenient place,” she said. “If you want to use the toilet, there were kindergarten and primary [students] there; it was so full, so you don’t have privacy.” She said that she and her classmates would spend up to 10 minutes looking for a secluded space in the nearby bush, which stretched from the school’s immediate land boundary.
Now, these girls have an institutional latrine, which provides a convenient, private space to take care of their sanitation and female hygiene needs. The structure is divided into two sides by a cement wall; one side has two latrines (for males), and the other side has the two latrines and a changing room (for females). Typically, the side with the two rooms is allocated for males and the other side for females, but the school administration has revised this: They’ve allocated the two-room side for teachers, and left the other side with two rooms and a changing room for the girls. Boys, kindergarten and primary school students use their designated latrines, which were constructed a few years ago.
“We have more privacy now,” Comfort said. Nearly everyone uses the latrine, she continued, because there are enough stalls.
“It’s good for us,” Maybelle added. Now, she doesn’t have to worry about missing class time to take care of her needs. “It’s improved things for us.”
For many of these students, facilities such as the latrine and the hygiene education are new. “In [students’] homes, out of 10 households, just one may have a household latrine,” said Ms. Gloria Duha, a teacher and the school’s School Health Education Program (SHEP) club leader. In addition, hygiene education is an important compliment to each and every sanitation improvement. Through the SHEP club, Ms. Duha teaches her students basic hygiene, such as keeping their hands, bodies and surroundings clean, including eschewing open defecation.
Ms. Duha also integrates the girls’ needs into the club material, encouraging them to freely talk about their experiences, challenges and questions about topics, including their monthly menses once they reach puberty.
Along with her SHEP student members, Ms. Duha is encouraging students to make proper use of the urinal and latrines on the school premises, and keep them clean in the process. From the 20 students that she works with – including 9 girls from the primary and junior high school level – she says the teachings are having a ripple effect: As she educates her students, her students in turn education and influence their classmates. With her students, she is also informing and educating parents about hygiene and sanitation: “We have regular Parent Teacher Association meetings,” she said. At the upcoming meeting, Ms. Duha said she is preparing the students to perform a drama that encourages hand washing.
According to Ms. Duha, the latrine and the SHEP activities are making a beneficial impact for all students, and especially the girls. “It’s really improving things,” she said.