Less than a third of schools worldwide have sanitary containers in bathrooms

Fewer than one in three schools around the world have menstrual waste containers in girls’ bathrooms, a new UN report reveals.

Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day and to highlight the importance of menstrual health and hygiene, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) released their report. Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in schools 2000-2023: special attention to menstrual health.

The report highlights some important gaps that exist in menstrual health, especially for school-age girls in developing countries; There is significantly limited education, information, products, services and facilities that exacerbate gaps in menstrual health.

Globally, only two in five schools (39 percent) provide menstrual health education, while less than a third (31 percent) have menstrual waste containers in bathrooms.

In less developed countries, this boils down to only one in five schools providing containers for menstrual waste; meanwhile, that figure stands at one in 10 in sub-Saharan Africa.

Millions of adolescent girls cannot access adequate soap and water, and girls who attend private and girls-only schools, as well as those who live in urban areas, are more likely to have access to a private space with soap and water to changing menstrual products at school. .

Studies have also identified the prevalence of widespread stigma associated with menstruation, with many young people feeling embarrassed by it. This shame can affect their school attendance and mental health.

Workalem, a 16-year-old student in Ethiopia, said her education was significantly affected not only by the difficulty in accessing water and a working toilet, but also by the shame she felt about menstruation.

“I used to stay home for up to seven days and miss classes and exams because of menstruation and the culture of not mentioning menstruation in public,” Workalem said.

Workalem, 16, is an active member of her school’s gender club. Credit: UNICEF

“Lack of access to menstrual products and school bathrooms without water were the reasons I missed school.”

Education is one of the best ways to improve menstrual health and hygiene, and school teachers are the key to this. It is unclear how many teachers are adequately trained to educate young people about menstrual hygiene, as there are no national data sets on this. UNICEF and WHO say this highlights a major gap in educational support for menstruation.

When Workalem joined her school’s gender club, she developed a much better understanding and awareness about menstruation.

Sixteen-year-old Bilen shares a similar confidence about menstruation, thanks to the education she received from her mother, her teacher, and herself, reading about it independently. Her school in the Gambella region also offers her students vintage products.

“I think (menstrual health) is very important for women,” Bilen said.

“My friends also use sanitary pads and we see it as something natural. I’m not afraid of it, especially knowing that I can get sanitary pads at school.”

Bilen Tilahun Legesse (16) confidently embraces her journey towards menstrual health, strengthened by knowledge and support from school and family. Credit: UNICEF

The UNICEF and WHO report also highlights wider gaps in children’s access to water, sanitation and hygiene around the world. There are 447 million children – one in five children worldwide – who still do not have basic drinking water services at school.

Approximately one in five children (427 million) also lacks basic sanitation services, while one in three children (646 million) lacks basic hygiene services.