How to keep a girl from skipping school, marrying? Give her a toilet

Mon Sep 7, 2015 8:08pm EDT
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By Magdalena Mis

BUNDA CHUNSU, Zambia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When 15-year-old Mellan Chansa started menstruating, her biggest fears while venturing into the bush to change her sanitary towel were snakes and peeping boys.

She had no choice but to risk encountering both, since her school in Bunda Chunsu village, northern Zambia, had no proper toilets, forcing Chansa and her classmates to use the surrounding grasslands instead.

The school once had a latrine but it now stands abandoned at the side of a soccer field, covered with burnt grass. The students refused to use it due to constant overflowing.

"I almost cried when I came here and saw the facilities," head teacher John Zulu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Girls would go to the makeshift toilet and run out almost half-naked because they would find a snake lurking there," he said, sitting in his small office overlooking the schoolyard where a Zambian flag on a pole was flapping in the wind.

For girls, especially those who, like Chansa, had started their periods, using the bush as a toilet meant a lack of privacy and dignity.

"Apart from snakes, the boys used to peep at us and sometimes mocked us, which made us girls frustrated, so I rarely came to school when I was menstruating," Chansa said.

Universal access to clean water and sanitation is one of a raft of development targets that world leaders are due to endorse later this month.   Continued...