Better toilets, accurate information about periods crucial to keeping girls in school: WaterAid

22 May 2018
Women and girls, Gender, Periods
Image: WaterAid/Sibtain Haider

A new WaterAid-Unicef report shows schools in South Asia are making progress in providing decent toilets and menstrual hygiene to their students – but there is still work to be done, with up to two-thirds of girls in the region not knowing about menstruation before starting their periods, and as many as 1 in 3 missing school days every month.

Menstrual hygiene management in schools in South Asia, released ahead of Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May, gives insight into the progress and challenges for girls in South Asia in managing their periods.

Across the region, an increase of 21% of availability of school sanitation was reported in 2013 compared to 5 years earlier, and several countries have started to include clear information about menstruation in school curriculums.

The challenge, however, remains great: Studies have shown that despite progress, between 36 and 66 percent of girls in the region do not receive essential information before menarche, the onset of their first period.

Over one-third of girls in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan report missing school days every month during their periods, with major factors including inadequate toilet facilities lacking water, privacy or disposal options, and social and cultural restrictions – such as not being allowed to play sports, go to school, or visit religious spaces - imposed on girls when they are on their periods.

Among the main findings:

  • In Bangladesh, 98% of secondary schools have functional toilet facilities, though work remains to be done on privacy and number of students per toilet.
  • Across the region, information about menstruation is lacking or vague: in Sri Lanka, 66% of girls reported not receiving information about menstruation before menarche.
  • More than one-third of girls in the region miss school days during their period; for 31% of girls in Bangladesh menstruation affects their attendance, as well as for about 37% of girls in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
  • Most countries in the region fall far behind the World Health Organization standard of 1 girls’ toilet for every 25 students in school; in Sindhuli District in Nepal, there is 1 toilet for every 170 girls.
  • Over 1 billion sanitary pads are disposed of annually in India alone, emphasising the crucial need for effective waste management: This could mean engaging with the private sector on waste management service providers and encouraging social responsibility among commercial pad suppliers.

The report comes as nations prepare for a July 2018 review of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6, to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere by 2030, which is expected to show that progress on sanitation is far behind.

WaterAid Chief Executive Tim Wainwright said:

“Girls have an irrevocable right to education, which is lost if they feel unable to attend lessons because of a lack of sanitary products or clean, private toilets at school. Governments simply need to ensure that every school has clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene."

“Better facilities in schools will not only help towards the global promise of universal access to clean water, but are also essential for achieving other Sustainable Development Goals on quality education, gender equality and good health and well-being.”

Report co-author and WaterAid Regional Programme Manager for South Asia, Thérèse Mahon, said:

“Along with water and sanitation facilities and sanitary materials, girls need accurate and practical information at the right time. Girls often turn to their mothers and teachers for support, but if they lack the confidence and information themselves, they may instead perpetuate taboos. A common perception is that periods are a dirty secret. We need to change the message so that periods are seen by all as healthy and normal.

“We are encouraged to see more schools taking the lead and incorporating information about menstruation in their curriculum, and that sanitation access in schools is improving. A more positive environment combined with better facilities that are clean and maintained can go a long way to remove the barriers that restrict opportunities for girls. Girls in vulnerable situations often face additional obstacles to period management and we must also ensure their specific needs are addressed so all girls’ rights are met.”

This Menstrual Hygiene Day, WaterAid calls on women and men around the world to talk about periods and be #PeriodProud, to challenge the myths and taboos surrounding menstruation that prevent women from reaching their full potential. Watch our short film.


For more information, please contact:

In London:
Yola Verbruggen, Senior Media Officer
[email protected]
+44 (0)2077934909;

Carolynne Wheeler, News Manager
[email protected]
+44 (0)207 793 4485

In the US:
Emily Haile, Senior Communications and Media Manager
[email protected]

In Delhi:
Pragya Gupta, Media Officer
[email protected]

In Melbourne:
Kirrily Johns, Communications Manager,
[email protected]
+61 3 9001 8248

In Ottawa:
Andrea Helfer, VP, fundraising and communications
[email protected]
+1 (613) 230-5182

In Stockholm:
Magdalena Olsson, Communications Manager
[email protected]
+46 (0)8 677 30 33 or +46 (0)73 661 93 31

Petter Gustafsson, Communications Officer
[email protected]
+46 (0)8 677 30 21 or +46 (0)72 858 58 51

Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected]

Notes to Editors:


WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 34 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and 25.1 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @wateraid or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at

  • 844 million people in the world – one in nine – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2.3 billion people in the world – almost one in three – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £24 can provide one person with clean water.[5]
  • To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database


[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage