Building a period-friendly future in Ethiopia
December 28, 2020 — Team Fempowered

School is a huge part of our lives as teens. In fact, in secondary school here in the UK, students spend over 700 hours a year behind those gates!

Rain or shine - period or not - they’re in the classroom 5 days a week, ready to learn.

However, of all the things we take for granted whilst still students, toilets are one of those that gets most easily forgotten. After all, why would we even think about it? Access to private, clean and working toilets is a human right. It's hard to even imagine going to classes without the option to easily use one, especially if you have a period!

Whilst it’s unimaginable for most of us, there are still many school-aged children that have to face this as their reality. And it needs to change.

One WaterAid project in Addids Ababa in Ethiopia is building new toilets at two schools – just one example of the work bringing clean toilets to the ¼ people that don’t have access to one.

We chatted with 15-year-old Askale just before building work started, about how life-changing the new toilet blocks will be.

15-year-old Askale standing in front of her school in Addis Ababa

“I don’t want other girls to suffer the way I do”

Askale is an 8th grader at Selam Ber School in Ethiopia - one of the schools where new toilets are being built. She loves its green spaces. She loves biology. She just loves school!

However, unlike most students in the UK, her main worry whilst learning isn’t whether she’s forgotten her homework or if she’s late for class. It’s that she’s one of the 5,000 students that use only a few toilets on the premises. Not only are the toilets almost always busy, but they don’t have proper, locking doors. This makes privacy difficult, which is especially awkward for those that are on their period.

Speaking on the difficulties she and her peers face, Askale said, “Not having enough toilets makes the school hours difficult for me and other girls in the school. Whenever we need to change sanitary pad, we go to the toilets, but we can’t get enough time and privacy to do it.”

Lack of privacy and availability are only the beginning. Take a look at the picture below of the current school toilet: no running water. No hand-washing facilities. No toilet paper. These dirty conditions make using the toilets difficult and undignified, especially for those on their period and needing to change. This leaves students unable to come to school whilst bleeding, meaning that they miss out on their all-important education because of a completely natural part of life.

Inside the current toilet at Selam Ber Kindergarten and Elementary School, which is a long drop toilet with no running water

It doesn’t seem fair. Because it isn’t. Whilst Askale is leaving school soon, she wants to see real change, so that no other student has to face “changing their sanitary pads in dirty toilets with a sense of embarrassment that somebody is likely to open the toilet door on them.”

Building hope for the future

We’re happy to say that things are changing for the better.

Working in collaboration with Ethiopia’s President’s Office, Ministry of Education and Addis Ababa Education Bureau, WaterAid is helping students to focus on what truly matters: their learning.

They are working hard to build several new toilet blocks and a Menstrual Hygiene Management room in the area, at both Selam Ber School and Atse Neakuto Le’Ab School. Each is focused on providing a clean and private environment for every single student to use the toilet in. Just as it should be.

This picture of the ongoing work already shows just how much of an improvement the toilets will be. So, it’s not surprising that Askale and her peers like Ma`ereg (pictured below), are excited for the new sense of dignity and security students will have at school.

The outer walls of the new toilet being built

We also spoke to 16 year-old Ma’ereg about the ongoing work. Highlighting just how much of an impact the toilets will have, she said, "I am really happy to see the construction. I never expected it to be like this. The students now can use the toilets freely and manage their hygiene as there will be water. This also has an advantage for the teachers. Now they can use their time properly as I believe there won’t be any student who is going to be late for classes while waiting for others to use the toilets. I am sure the teachers will be happy.”

16 year-old Ma’ereg standing in front of the new toilet block

This amazing project in Addis Ababa is a part of WaterAid’s vision for the future: That everyone, everywhere has safe water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030.

To support life-changing work like this, become a Fempowered subscriber today. 100% of the profits from our sustainable period subscription boxes go to WaterAid, helping students like Askale to menstruate with the safety and dignity they deserve.