PAKISTAN: Lack of sanitation facilities in schools -- an obstacle in girls' education
Education is certainly an undeniable right of every child, as enshrined in all UN and International Conventions and Protocols. Similarly, getting education in a clean and healthy environment in school is also a fundamental child right; however, thousands of children are being denied to their basic right as they have no or very limited access to clean and healthy sanitation facilities in their schools, especially located in rural areas of the country. This is certainly an unfortunate fact that lack of clean and healthy sanitation facilitates are not only harmful and injurious for the health of little children but also consider as an obstacle in girls' education.
Badrunnisa Memon, a female school teacher in Mirpurkhas, informed that a majority of government schools, and even some private schools, often experience very inadequate and unsatisfactory toilet facilities. She added that in many schools toilets are so dirty and filthy that children - only boys - prefer to go to the open fields; however, girls find no option but either goes back to their own house or to the nearby house of any acquaintance. Badrunnisa Memon further informed that young girls need privacy in toilets, due to their specific biological needs; therefore, lack of proper facilities makes it very difficult for young girls to attend the school regularly, especially during their periods.
Bushra Abro left the school when she was in class VII, "Since my childhood, I have keen interest in getting education. I have really worked hard during my studies; however, after my primary school, it was quite difficult for me to continue the studies as the new school was quite far away from my house. I still remember that school didn't have any toilet, which was really painful for all of us."
According to a recent news report, highlighted in print and electronic media, UNESCO in collaboration with Pakistan Association for Continuing and Adult Education (PACADE) organized a forum for the enforcement of Article 25-A of the 18th Amendment of Constitution and promotion of EFA (Education for All) in Sindh. The program informed that according to an official survey, 22 percent of the primary schools have no buildings, 86 percent lack electricity, 46 percent have no latrines and there is no proper provision of drinking water in 51 percent of schools.
It is important to mention that Article 25 A has been introduced into the Constitution of Pakistan through 18th Amendment and the article 25 A states that: "The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 5 to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law".
Shad Begum, Executive Director of the Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation (ABKT), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, observed that lack of sanitation facilities for girls in schools is an immensely important issue; however, the issue has been ignored badly. Additionally, due to several social and cultural restrictions, people don't discuss the issue. She added that health and hygiene is equally important for girls and therefore, there is a need to create broader awareness about the issue, with the help of print and electronic media. It is important to mention that Shad Begum is the recipient of the 2012 International Women of Courage Award.
Fazal Noor, an experienced International Development Expert, observed that sanitation is an important issue in itself; however, sanitation in schools in many ways is not on the priority of Education or Sanitation sector. He observed that education is important in its own right. Major difficulty is in getting the parents to realize the value of girls going to school. They drop out because parents do not trust adolescence girls being away from home without parental guidance. He added that education just does not give girls mobility but also freedom to think and to act independently.
Kashif Farooqui, an Islamabad based Gender Expert, observed that proper utilization of sanitation facilities in rural Pakistan is minimal due to limited investment and will to utilize the facility. He observed that women and girls tend to attach more importance to safe sanitation than do men due to their specific biological needs and vulnerable status. Kashif Farooqui lamented that inadequate latrine facilities is another reason of girls' dropout from formal education system. He concluded that, "a society that has essentially been structured on male domination, women needs have least weight."
Samina Qureshi, a female school teacher in Hyderabad, observed that it is really commendable that number of literate people have been increased in Pakistan due to some sincere efforts by federal and provincial governments; however, she added, more investment especially to improve the infrastructure is required with a view to provide conducive environment to children, especially girls, in schools.
Jabbar Bhatti, Regional Manager of a National NGO, observed that lack of sanitation facilities is a serious and major issue in primary, middle and higher secondary schools in Sindh, and other parts of the Pakistan. He added that, "Due to sanitation and drinking water facilities parents do not allow their girl children to go to schools in rural areas of Sindh as the parents feel it is morally bad and it is matter of respect that where girls should go for using toilets". The Hyderabad based Community Development Expert said, "I think the situation is an eye-opener for government as well as international organizations who want to reach the targets of enrolling thousands of girls and boys, but paying less attention in improving the infrastructures of schools and filling the missing facilities of schools." Jabbar Bhatti suggested that GOs, INGOs and NGOs should invest in improving the infrastructure as it will help in improving the quality of education in the province as well as in the country.
Ar. Lubaina Adnan, Registrar Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners (PCATP), informed that she had the privilege to study in one of the best schools in Karachi; therefore, the infrastructure of her school was quite good. She added that, "I don't remember any obstruction while using the resting rooms. I even remember that our female teachers used to do extra efforts and female maids were always present to serve the feminine issues of sanitary." Ar. Lubaina Adnan added that in professional life she had visited several schools, especially located in rural areas, and discovered that toilet facilities are really pathetic. She suggested that innovative solutions such as mobile-washrooms may help solving the problem.
No one can argue or deny the importance of girl child education as she will be the mother of tomorrow. An educated woman can help in making the family and also contribute significantly in social and economical development of the country. No country or nation can achieve success and development without given education to their girls and women. Therefore, there is a need to minimize gender inequality in education and provide our girls an opportunity to study in schools, colleges and universities without any problem. Additionally, provincial governments should relook at their education infrastructure policy and invest in improving sanitation facilities, especially for girl's schools in rural areas of the country.
Amir Murtaza may be contacted at: email@example.com