Access to water and sanitation, focusing on menstrual hygiene, in four schools in Lilongwe and Chikwawa, Malawi.
Lilongwe and Chikwawa districts, Malawi
Direct: 6,400 (3,230 women and 3,900 boys and girls under 15). The students who attend the selected schools and those who live in the adjacent communities. WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) activities, with a particular focus on menstrual hygiene, will impact the entire population, especially women and girls.
Indirect: 1,500 (765 women). The families of the students who do not live in the adjacent communities but attend the schools that participate in the project.
October 2022 - October 2023
Lack of access to water
In Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, 21.3% of the population has limited access to water, 5.8% has it without guarantees of sanitation, and 2.23%, more than 425,000 people, consume surface water.
Many families are exposed to poor health and food insecurity in the peri-urban and rural areas. They also suffer a significant deterioration in their educational level.
The most affected group is women and girls since the Malawian patriarchal society assigns them the role of fetching water, which means that they spend more than an hour a day on this task, which they often have to carry out in very harsh and dangerous conditions.
On the other hand, family health problems, significantly children's, caused by the lack of drinking water, increase the workload of women who are the ones who provide care.
The areas of Lilongwe and Chikwawa districts where we will implement do not have drinking water sources. The surface water is contaminated, and they cannot access the groundwater because the level has dropped due to the recurring droughts in recent years.
Most of the water pumps in Malawi are manual Afridev pumps that reach a maximum depth of 45 meters, which in the project implementation areas is not enough.
Only the possibility remains of using pumps that extract mechanically. However, most of those on the market need fossil fuels. Malawi is a country without oil reserves, with 43% of the population living in multidimensional poverty, which reduces the ability to purchase fuel.
Poor sanitation and hygiene in schools
Participating schools already have latrines but are in poor condition and do not meet quality standards. On average, there is one latrine for every 150 students, causing them to deteriorate rapidly. As a result, many get stuck, and the students are in charge of cleaning them without training in how they work, often as a punishment imposed by teachers who are also untrained.
Menstrual hygiene and education
In addition, the latrines do not guarantee privacy and functionality for the girls when they menstruate, causing many of them to stop going to class.
It is estimated that girls lose approximately one month per school year due to menstruation (two or three days per menstrual cycle).
On the other hand, the girls also suffer harassment and abuse from their peers who are unaware of the subject or have a distorted view of sexual health due to their culture.
Although girls' knowledge is greater than that of boys, they still have inaccurate information about menstruation that is taboo in their community.
Lack of access to menstrual hygiene supplies
In Malawi, women often use reusable pads, and when they get dirty, they have to be washed as soon as possible. Not having water at school and enough privacy, the girls choose not to attend class.
In the communities where we will work, the most common is to use gauze that is not waterproof enough, so the girls end up staining their underwear or even their uniforms.
Increased knowledge about sexual health and menstruation will be frustrating if girls do not have access to supplies for menstrual hygiene. This is because the offer is not sufficient or at a reasonable price. Reusable pads are widely accepted, but they are not of adequate quality or at an affordable price.
Other types of articles have advantages for girls, such as the menstrual cup, which does not need to be dried and is reusable. However, in the communities, it is still rejected.
Lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices
On the other hand, it is essential to train in the appropriate hygienic guidelines, particularly in the fight against covid-19 or diarrhea. But unfortunately, only 11% of schools in the country carry out handwashing as a regular practice.
The project's general objective is to improve the exercise of the right to education, with a particular focus on girls, from work on the exercise of the right to water, sanitation, and hygiene with a perspective of environmental sustainability and community participation.
The specific objectives are:
- To promote access and availability of water, sanitation and hygiene resilient to climate change in schools and adjacent communities.
- To maintain and improve the retention of girls in the education system.
- To get girls to access menstrual hygiene.
- To train teachers to improve relations with students and school administration.
- To get full community participation.
- To achieve a replicable model in peri-urban and rural contexts, with a strong focus on environmental sustainability.
- To replicate the model in other areas of the country.
We will develop the project in two districts of Malawi: the peri-urban area of the capital of Lilongwe and the rural area of Chikwawa.
It will work on three fundamental points:
- To construct community-managed solar-powered drinking water extraction and distribution systems to supply the four schools and their adjoining communities.
- To rehabilitate the latrines of the four schools with a gender approach, promoting community ownership.
- To improve hygiene knowledge and practices in the four schools and adjacent communities with a particular focus on menstrual hygiene and additional barriers for girls and women caused by collective imagination and lack of quality supplies.
This project includes an innovative component that tries to respond to one of the challenges detected in the identification, being essential for the sustainability of the results: the lack of supplies for menstrual hygiene.
Without them, work on the project would be frustrated. One of the ways to address it is to guarantee supply chains of articles already accepted in the communities or new. Thus, we will implement market fairs in which these products will be promoted, facilitating the creation of a supply chain that guarantees they are available.
This component is a new approach and has not been previously addressed by UNICEF in Malawi. Therefore, we have selected two areas: one rural (particularly vulnerable due to the distance to production centers) and the other peri-urban (vulnerable due to being forgotten by having supplies nearby but at a very high cost). The purpose is to observe how the activity works in both areas, draw conclusions and replicate them in the future. This test in two zones is essential because it takes advantage of the similarities and differences that both have.
The project will use local UNICEF focal points to monitor the implementation of activities. Programmatic visits will also be made to assess progress and results.
All interventions under this program will boost the capacity of existing programs, initiatives, and networks of the Government of Malawi, as well as formal and informal structures at the national and decentralized levels.
We will guarantee the sustainability of the project in the three results:
- First, in the case of water systems, community involvement is essential. To this end, Community Water Management Committees (CCGA) will be created, which will receive training during execution and will continue to operate once the project has ended.
- In the case of school sanitation, during the project, teaching staff will be trained to be a sanitation focal point and, together with the students, cleaning and maintenance systems will be established.
- In the case of menstrual hygiene, in addition to the training that will be given to groups of mothers and teachers, the private sector will be included in the supply of products. This will guarantee access to these types of items in the future. For general hygiene, we will create WASH clubs formed by students to promote it in the long term.
In addition to the committees and formations, we will guarantee the sustainability of the infrastructures:
- Water distribution systems. Although installing a system that works with solar energy is more expensive, it is also more sustainable in environmental terms (zero emissions) and in terms of maintenance and operation. Their noise pollution is also lower than diesel's and they have fewer mechanical problems. In addition, the system will be direct current to avoid using batteries and inverters with a high maintenance cost.
- Latrines. They do not need specific maintenance beyond cleaning. The school organization will ensure this task. For any repair, the District Education Officer will be notified, who will contact the Ministry of Education.
Regarding the sustainability of the results:
- Water systems. In the community mobilization sessions, we will assess the availability of the communities to pay a flat rate for the service. The CCGA will manage this money through a bank account and will be used to pay a small salary to the system operators and, at the same time, to cover necessary repairs or parts.
- Sanitation. The teachers trained in sanitation will transmit their knowledge to the students so that they can use and maintain the latrines.
- Hygiene promotion. WASH clubs will be trained and conduct activities with their peers to promote handwashing and other basic hygiene guidelines. In addition, girls and boys will be trained in menstrual hygiene and sexual health. Training the boys is essential so that the results achieved with the girls are not reversed in the future. In addition, the groups of mothers and teachers will address these issues, ensuring that cultural patterns about menstruation are changed and being able to train more students in the future.