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Recent survey reveals lack of girls' toilets a barrier to girls education
A recent survey reveals that poor school sanitation and lack of separate girls' toilets are main barriers to girls' education in India, According to the survey findings regarding government elementary schools in India, shared by the Deshkal Society NGO, around 76 percent elementary schools in the country are operated by the government and 47 percent of them do not have toilets for girls, forcing a good number of girls to either skip classes or drop out from government schools.

This is despite the fact that under the universalization of elementary education projects in the last two decades, it has been claimed effective efforts have been made to improve infra-structural facilities in children's accessibility to schools.

When I have personally visited some rural schools, the toilets for girls were either locked or were non-functional. Even if we take the probability of functional and non-functional toilets in half of the government schools, which have them, only about 25 percent of the schools seem to have separate functional toilets for girls that too in sub-standard ways.

Despite all the loan money from the World Bank to improve elementary education, not much has happened to improve school education in the government sector. It seems much money  has gone down the drain. "While one cannot deny the need for separate toilets for girls in schools, equally compelling issue is maintenance of those toilets. At many schools, the existing toilets are in such a pathetic shape that there are as good as not having toilets" observes the NGO.

The NGO has suggested that the school toilets should be linked to sanitation activities of local community. In other words, the government school should be considered as a community of children within the larger community.

The experiment of Lok Jumbish Project during the 1990s in Rajasthan had tried successfully, by creating Shala Bhawan Nirman Samitis of the community members and parents by norms-based funding to them for school repairs as well improving existing facilities and creating new facilities like out-of-classroom learning spaces and toilets for girls. This produced a feeling of ownership of the schools among the community and upkeep of toilets improved.

Very recently, the Supreme Court of India ruled that separate toilets for boys and girls along with drinking water facility were integral part of the Right to Education (RTE) Act and ordered that all schools must make provision for toilets on their premises.

In many under-developed and developing countries, studies have identified poor sanitation and lack of separate girls' toilets as major factors that work as barriers to girls' education. In India, there is a need for gender-sensitive water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) intervention to remove this barrier to attending school by girls.

With a woman Human Resource Development Minister around, hopefully, the government machinery and school management committees will become gender sensitive to retain girls in schools and safeguard their right to education.

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