'School washrooms are so dirty, I just hold on'

Abida Sultana, a young girl of the capital city, has just finished high school. She is still haunted by the memories of the school toilet. It was so dirty, if she needed to use the washroom, she would just hold on until school was over and she could go home. She shared her experience at an event today, Monday.

Speaking at event on 'Sexual and Reproductive Health Services' organised by World Vision Bangladesh at a hotel in the capital city, Abida said, "We spend long hours at school. The washrooms there are so dirty! So we just hold on, even if we need to use the toilet. The washrooms are only cleaned if any senior officials come to inspect the school." She made an appeal to ensure that the washrooms are kept clean and hygienic every single day, not just on special any occasion.

Another young girl, Khadija Rahman, voiced the demand for the cost of sanitary pads to be kept at the minimum. She said, many girls of middle or lower income families use folded lengths of cloth during their period because pads cost too much.

It was observed at the event that girls of the 10-19 age group spend around 7 to 9 hours at a stretch out of their homes, from the time they leave for school and attend after-school coaching classes. Many of these girls do not use the toilet that entire stretch of time as the schools lack proper sanitation and water, the toilets are unclean and also inadequate in number. Suppressing their need to use the toiler leads to all sorts of health complications. There are no arrangements in the schools for menstruation management, including having a stock of sanitary pads.

The 'research findings on policy analysis for sexual and reproductive health services and rights of urban people in Bangladesh', covering Dhaka North and South Corporations and Gazipur City Corporations, were presented at the event. According to the study, adolescent girls suffer from the lack of any menstruation management in the schools, particularly if their period suddenly starts while in school.

It was noted that urban citizens of the lower income bracket often depend on the local drugstore to save on expenses. In the villages while there is one community clinic for every 6000 persons, in the city corporations similarly facilities existed for every 50,000 persons.

Speaking as chief guest at the event, Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives Md Tajul Islam said, cleanliness is an extremely important matter. This is a habit that needs to be practiced at home and school. Public awareness must be mobilised in this regard. Toilets in stations, offices, schools, houses and many places are unclean. This also increases the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes. He said, "It is your responsibility to keep the toilet clean. Innumerable people are dying of dengue, there are innumerable deaths. This is saddening. It makes us feel guilty. But what can we do? There is no alternative to public awareness."

Member of parliament Abdul Aziz said, "People living in the city slums go to the big government hospitals rather than the local urban health centres. It is easy for them to access the big hospitals." He said, if a sanitary pad is used for an extended time, this can cause infection. Schools should provide sanitary pads free of charge.

Professor of sociology at Dhaka University, Sadeka Halim, said public health has come to the doorsteps of the people, but still hasn't reached everyone. If sanitary arrangements are not ensure during menstruation, this can leader to cervical cancer and other diseases.

Senior public health expert Abu Jamil Faisal said, there is need for coordination of work among the health ministry, the city corporations, the NGOs and other service providers. The school textbooks for Class 9 and Class 10 have chapters on reproductive health. The teachers are not comfortable teaching these chapters. The education ministry must come forward and arrange to train and motivate the teachers in this regard.

Also addressing the event were World Vision Bangladesh's senior director (operations) Chandan Z Gomes, Dhaka North City Corporation Chief Executive Officer Md Selim Reza, DNCC's Chief Health Officer Brigadier General AKM Shafiqur Rahman, etc.

Ekattur Television served as media partner of the event. The event was moderated by Ekattur Television's Chief Planning Editor Noor Safa Julhaj.