What Impact Does the Provision of Separate Toilets for Girls at School Have on Their Primary and Secondary School Enrolment, Attendance and Completion?
A Systematic review of the evidence
The education of girls is recognised as an investment with many valuable returns, including the health and economic prosperity of women, their families and nations (Herz and Sperling 2004). Despite recent progress in increasing girls' enrolment, statistics from 157 countries indicate that only one country out of three had reached gender parity in both primary and secondary education in 2008 (UNESCO 2010). UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) estimates that almost half of the 157 countries are unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education no later than 2015 (MDG Goal 3, Target 4). Thus there is much interest in identifying the most effective ways of increasing girls' enrolment and completion.
Poor school sanitation facilities have been cited as a factor that can impede girls' access to their education. For example, UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) and the International Water and Sanitation Centre argue specifically that "Education for girls can be supported and fostered by something as basic as a girls-only toilet" (UNICEF 2005). Consequently, a growing number of organisations are calling for increased investment in gender-sensitive "water, sanitation and health" (WASH) interventions in schools, through such initiatives as Raising Clean Hands for WASH in Schools (Raising Clean Hands 2010).
To help verify whether WASH conditions contribute to girls' educational outcomes, a systematic literature review was conducted to determine what impact the provision of separate toilets for girls has on their primary and secondary school enrolment, attendance and completion.The primary aim of this systematic review was to identify and synthesise evidence of the impact of separate toilets for girls on their enrolment and attendance in schools. With an absence of identified studies in this area, we did not find evidence either for or against the impact of separate toilets for girls on their educational outcomes (equipoise). There may be several reasons for the absence of research in this area.
- The lack of sex-disaggregated data may stem from a lack of gender awareness in the field of hygiene and sanitation.
- There may be inadequate research capacity, particularly for designing and implementing rigorous evaluations that can measure the effects of different components of comprehensive interventions.
- Collaboration between governments, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and researchers with evaluation expertise could help generate empirical evidence and build research capacity, but such collaborations are rare.
- "Practitioner wisdom", or field experience, may have already convinced many in the sector that providing separate toilets for girls is the right thing to do, from a human rights perspective and because it facilitates girls' educational experience.