Girls who are menstruating in Nepal are less likely to attend classes, undermining their prospects for completing their education, experts say.
“Many girls drop out at secondary level and only 30 percent of the cohorts reach the 10th grade,” Sumon Kamal Tuladhar, an education specialist with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told IRIN.
The literacy rate for females stands at just 44.2 percent as opposed to 67.7 percent for males, according to Nepal's Ministry of Education.
To address this issue, better sanitation management in schools - particularly in rural and semi-urban environments - is needed, Tuladhar stressed.
Poor sanitation is linked to a lack of gender sensitivity, the UNICEF officer noted, with most schools continuing to neglect the special needs of adolescent girls.
Many girls are missing out on between 10 and 20 percent of all class days, she said.
Girls prefer to stay home
According to a 2009 survey by Water Aid, an international NGO, the key reasons girls were absent while menstruating was a lack of privacy, unavailability of sanitary disposal facilities and water shortages.
“Although several public schools, even in rural areas, now have separate toilets for female students, they are poorly managed,” said Susan Acharya, an education expert at the Tribhuwan University, the country’s largest.
Acharya, who has conducted several studies on girls’ education, says most rural schools have no water taps, although the reason is more cultural than financial.
“Our sanitation system is strongly linked to culture. Schools are regarded as temples so you will not find toilets attached to schools,” she explained.
And with taps installed far from the toilets, girls have no choice but to carry whatever water is needed to clean themselves back and forth, all under the gaze of their fellow classmates.
Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
|Many girls would rather stay at home than attend school|
Most public schools in Nepal are co-ed and girls are often harassed by their male counterparts.
“To avoid humiliation - especially teasing by school boys - they [the girls] would rather go home. This is one of the reasons why they lose interest in going to school,” Acharya noted.
In rural areas, girls cannot afford sanitary pads or tampons and instead use rags, which if not properly cleaned can result in infections.
An opposing view
However, a new study by the Menstruation and Education in Nepal Project, supported by the University of Michigan, University of Chicago and Harvard University, concluded that menstruation had very little impact on school attendance.
Based on research in four schools in Chitwan District, nearly 300km west of the capital, only a total of 0.4 days in a 180-day school year was missed.
“Claims that menstruation is a barrier to schooling are overstated and modern sanitary products are unlikely to affect educational attainment,” the report said.
That assertion has been criticized by some Nepali experts, noting that Chitwan was one of the country’s most developed urban areas.
“Such a claim can only undermine the much-needed menstrual hygiene and management to be introduced in schools by the government and integrated in the overall hygiene intervention,” one expert, who asked not to be identified, said.
This is supported by UNICEF’s 2009, Equity in School Water and Sanitation report.
“In most schools, it was reported that girls took leave from school if they menstruated,” it read.
“When we talk about girls' education, we cannot only focus on scholarships or building toilets. We need an integrated approach that involves gender sensitivity among teachers and the need to educate the mothers also on the issue of menstrual impact on girls,” said Manju Khadka, a women’s empowerment officer from a local NGO, Educate the Children.
Such awareness was needed not just for male teachers, but school management committees and parents as well, she said.