Yesterday was not only a celebrated American holiday, but also a day to recognize menstrual health around the world. Menstrual Hygiene Day is an important chance to talk about what’s been done and what we can continue to do to empower people with menstrual hygiene awareness. One area where we can continue the discussion is related to girls in school; the Human Rights Watch estimated that in 2016, one in ten girls in Africa missed school during their period. What can be done to take on this barrier to education? The first step is clearly providing basic sanitation in schools, but really it’s beyond just providing the basics of a toilet. Girls need to have a safe space where they feel comfortable enough to manage their period and menstrual waste in a healthy, hygienic way. So at our school in Southern Tanzania, we collaborated on a project to do just this: to provide the female students with both an adequate number of toilet stalls and the facilities and resources they would need to be able to manage their periods while at school every month. We built a new bathroom with six private stalls to finally meet the WHO recommendation of no more than 25 girls per one toilet stall, and ensured that each stall included a running water for cleaning. Then we were faced with the challenge of how to accommodate all of the menstrual waste materials that female students used? The current solution was for one of the stalls to be a pit latrine (rather than piped to the septic tank) and girls were told to only dispose of materials there. But in reality it was more common for girls to flush the materials down whichever stall they were using if the pit latrine was not available. This resulted in pipes clogging and the toilet facilities being spread even more thin. So after discussing solutions that had seen success in Tanzania before, we decided to build integrated furnaces into the new bathroom and also the existing bathroom building. This would allow for girls to toss their waste down a shoot without having to exit the bathroom, and then the waste could periodically be burned to hygienically dispose of the materials, and this system would increase the functionality of all of the toilets by preventing clogging. This solution is still in its early stages of use so we’ll have to continue to learn how it is being used, and how the girls feel about using it. But as we celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day, its important to talk about what work can be done to break down one barrier to female education, and to continue to empower girls through menstrual hygiene education.


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