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FEATURE STORYJanuary 19, 2024

Breaking Barriers: Empowering Girls with Clean Water and Sanitation Facilities in Ethiopia's Schools


Fowzia Omer at a water access point. She is one of the beneficiaries of the One WaSH project in Melka Kero Kebele. 

Photo: Midas Touch/World Bank

The One WaSH National Program (OWNP) Consolidated WaSH Account (CWA), supported by the World Bank and seven other development partners, is the Ethiopian Government's initiative for ensuring universal access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) through an integrated sector-wide approach. Since 2014, over 5,000 schools have been equipped with essential WaSH facilities and 223 dedicated Menstrual Hygiene Management rooms, improving school attendance, especially among girls, due to safer and more reliable sanitation and water supply.

Ensuring access to clean water, proper sanitation facilities, and hygiene in schools is crucial for promoting the health and well-being of students and is a key aspect of keeping girls in school. Addressing the challenges faced in providing Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) facilities in Ethiopia’s nearly 45,000 schools is a high priority for the government since currently only 25% of schools have safe water supply facilities and only 60% have basic sanitation amenities. 

Attending school while menstruating was a major challenge for girls due to the unavailability of suitable toilets. Some students couldn't afford menstrual products, so they used rags instead. Since there were no proper rooms for managing periods, girls often missed 3 to 5 days of school each month. This made it harder for girls to do well in school and more likely for them to drop out, compared to boys.
Netsanet Legesse
Teacher and supervisor of the Girls’ Club at Jaldessa School in the city of Dire Dawa

The Government of Ethiopia has taken measures to address these issues through their One WaSH National Program (OWNP) which is providing reliable water supply, constructing gender-separate toilets with Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) rooms, and promoting hygiene education in the targeted schools across the country. World Bank support for the program started in 2014 and will continue until 2025.

The Jaldessa Primary and Secondary School, which Neyma attends and where Netsanet teaches, serves as a shining example of OWNP's impact. Thanks to a comprehensive WaSH package, the school is now equipped with convenient water access, latrines designated for girls, and comprehensive MHM facilities. Boasting four distinct partitions—waiting area, consultation space, resting zone, and a shower—the MHM room features all essential amenities. 

Complementing this progress is the supply of sanitary pads, soap, and more from the regional Women & Children Social Affairs Bureau. "Due to the absence of a secure space for changing and cleaning, I often found myself returning home and missing classes during my menstrual cycle," said Neyma Ibrahim, a 15-year-old 9th grader from Jaldessa secondary school, now a beneficiary of the project.  “Now, we have no worries about our monthly cycle, thanks to the MHM rooms in the school,” says Neyma. Provided under the OWNP CWA, these MHM facilities are helping preserve the dignity of girls and increasing school enrolment and regular attendance while minimizing dropout rates. At Neyma's school, the dropout rate among girls has significantly decreased from an initial rate of 6% to an impressive 0%.

The program is also teaching and emphasizing the importance of hygiene education, instilling good hygiene practices among students. Proper handwashing techniques, personal hygiene, and menstrual hygiene management plays a crucial role in improving the health and well-being of students. To facilitate behavioral change and awareness campaigns at schools, the program has supported the development and roll out of a compressive school WaSH guideline and MHM implementation manual. 

WaSH clubs and MHM clubs have been established outside of schools, to raise awareness about cleanliness and hygiene. The clubs sensitize students, teachers, parents, and communities about health hazards caused by open defecation, helping mobilize these different actors to support and achieve the vision of making schools and surrounding communities free of open defecation. Students are encouraged to be members of the school WaSH clubs and will be trained and responsible for serving as role models, promoting i) safe water handling, ii) personal, household, and environmental sanitation, and iii) hand washing with soap in schools and communities.

Students have embraced various activities such as maintaining a pristine school compound and classrooms, adopting better personal hygiene practices, and implementing effective solid and liquid waste management systems on campus. Moreover, the Girls' Club holds informative sessions on MHM and family planning for adolescents. Peer discussions are a focus, to bolster understanding and support amongst students.

Since the inception of the program in 2014, 5,390 schools were equipped with vital WaSH facilities and during the second phase of OWNP, 223 dedicated MHM rooms were constructed.  By providing safe, private sanitation facilities and a reliable water supply, the program is making it possible for more and more girls across Ethiopia to regularly attend school with dignity and pursue their dreams. 


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