Without access to clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene, students, especially girls, cannot attend school in a safe and dignified manner. When water access points are far from home, aspiring students, often young girls, spend their time collecting water instead of getting an education. And for those girls who are in school, there is seldom access to clean water and decent toilets, preventing adolescent girls from managing menstruation and often putting them at risk of sexual harassment and violence.  

In Malawi, where 13.8 million people do not have access to a decent toilet, these challenges are a reality. In 2018, WaterAid partnered with Circles for Integrated Community Development (CICOD) to implement the three-year WASH for Healthy Learning project in Malawi. The project will improve education, health and nutrition outcomes for learners in the Lilongwe district by changing hygiene behaviors, including menstrual hygiene management, handwashing and the use of gender-sensitive toilets. The schools of M’Buka, Chipala, Kabwabwa and Mlodza in Lilongwe district are the principal targets of this initiative. By increasing adequate WASH access and rights-based programming, the project aims to create inclusive and equitable learning environments for children, particularly girls. Female students will become more aware of their rights and able to claim them wherever necessary.

Key Stats:  

  • Number of girls, boys, teachers and caregivers targeted with hygiene behavior training and information: 12,587

  • Number of water access points built close to the target schools: 36

  • Number of handwashing facilities added to toilet blocks in the target schools: 132

  • Percentage reduction in cases of teasing, bullying and discrimination towards girls: 75%

Nurse washing her hands
Patricia Mwenyeheri, nurse and midwife technician, washing her hands after attending to a patient, Mzandu Health Centre, Ntchisi, Malawi, July 2019.
Image: WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

Improving Community Hygiene Practices

Proper hygiene practices such as handwashing with soap and water are critical to ensuring the long-lasting health of students. Additionally, for women and girls who are menstruating, proper hygiene facilities can be the difference between staying in school and dropping out. Currently, only 40% of the targeted population are aware of at least three hygiene behaviors (i.e. handwashing, fecal matter disposal, food hygiene, etc...). The project aims to significantly increase the percentage of students, caregivers and teachers who are aware of and practice proper hygiene behaviors. To achieve this goal, approximately 12,587 girls, boys, teachers and caregivers will be targeted with hygiene behavior training and information. This will increase awareness of hygiene behaviors among boys and girls and increase their use of proper handwashing and other hygiene techniques. The Wash for Healthy Learning project will also aim to have 90% of girls within the menstrual ages (9 to 18 years) managing their menstruation safely and properly. To ensure sustainable management of the WASH infrastructure in this project, each school will have an operations and maintenance committee. Forty local actors from school management committees (SMCs) and parents' teacher associations (PTAs), ten in each of the four targeted schools, will be trained in the operation and maintenance of the facilities

Building Safe, Inclusive and Gender-Sensitive Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Facilities

Having proper WASH facilities is crucial for a healthy learning environment. A baseline study was conducted in 2019 to determine the state of WASH access for students in the four target schools. The study found that for every Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) facility, there were 813 girls; for every water point, there were 2,193 users; and for every adequate sanitation facility, there were 125 students. These ratios make it extremely difficult for students, particularly female ones, to partake in education in a safe and dignified manner.  The WASH for Healthy Learning project aims to significantly increase the ratio of WASH facilities to users by equipping the schools with safe water, MHM and disability-friendly sanitation facilities. Across the span of the project, WaterAid and its partners will construct 36 water access points, build or rehabilitate 99 toilet holes, add 132 handwashing facilities and make available 28 MHM rooms across the four targeted schools by the end of the project.

Women cheering and raising their arms
The women of Chanda and other villages happy to receive sanitary pads, soap and other sanitary materials, Zomba, Malawi, July, 2019.
Image: WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

Creating an Empowering Learning Environment for Girls

Ensuring that more girls are aware of their rights and entitlements and take appropriate action when their rights are violated is central to improving the status of women. Before the project, a baseline study found that only 50% of girls know their rights. The WASH for Healthy Living project aims to raise that to 90% by teaching both boys and girls about support systems, including reporting channels to address abuse in their schools or homes. In each of the targeted schools, there will be a girl’s club that acts as a safe space for girls to discuss their issues. The main objectives of the clubs are: to provide a safe space where girls socialize and rebuild their social networks; receive social support; acquire contextually relevant skills; access non-stigmatizing multi-sectorial gender-based violence response services (psychosocial, legal, medical); and receive information on issues relating to girls’ rights, health and services. In addition to supporting women and girls, boys, male teachers and school management will partake in training sessions on girls and their rights and entitlements using the “promoting rights in schools” framework.

WaterAid in Malawi

Since the early 2000s, Malawi’s Government has made clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene for every person a priority. There has been significant progress: fewer people are relieving themselves in the open and two in three people have clean water to drink.  However, more than 3,100 children under five still die a year from diarrhea. Also, more than half of the population does not have access to an adequate toilet. The WASH for Healthy Living project compliments WaterAid’s other initiatives to build and maintain WASH infrastructure across the country.