KABUL, Afghanistan, 30 AUGUST 2017 – The first ever ‘Girls’ Hygiene Day’ in Afghanistan was marked today with a high level event at the Marble Palace under the slogan, ‘Nothing can stop me going to school’, to raise national awareness of the importance of girls’ hygiene and the availability of a private and dignified space at school for girls to take care of their hygiene needs to enable them to stay in school until 12th grade.
Launching the Day, First Lady, Ms. Rula (Bibi Gul) Ghani stressed the importance of girls’ education.
“It is our duty to support the girls of Afghanistan to get educated and to be able to go to school and home where they can take care of their personal hygiene with access to water and sanitation facilities so they feel confident enough to go to school every day of the week”, said Ms. Ghani.
Addressing the need to prevent girls dropping out of school as they enter puberty, Minister of Education, Dr. Assadullah Hanif Balkhi said,
“We have learned that retention of older girls is higher when we have more female teachers and the Ministry is working hard to increase the number of female teachers all over Afghanistan. Schools should have proper WASH facilities, with running water, separate toilets for boys and girls and dedicated washrooms for girls to manage their personal hygiene in privacy and with dignity.”
Dr. Assadullah also highlighted the importance of the Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) programme currently being implemented nationwide, to combat iron-deficiency anemia among adolescent girls.
In his remarks, Minister of Public Health, Dr Ferozuddin Feroz, outlined that ignorance about their monthly cycle will negatively influence the health and hygiene of girls, not only during school but also at home and later during their family life. Similarly, Head of the Health Council, gynecologist, Dr. Nasreen Oryakil underlined the importance of “girls knowing how to manage their personal hygiene in particular during their periods to avoid infections.” She said that teaching girls to eat a well-balanced diet, to promote healthy growth and good concentration at all times including during school hours, will give all families in Afghanistan a chance to do well in life.
UNICEF Representative Ms. Adele Khodr described the Day as an important occasion to break taboos and encourage girls to grow into healthy and informed women who can share their well-being with their families and communities.
“Healthy girls menstruate every month,” said Ms. Khodr, “and nothing in their daily habits, from their hygiene to their nutrition to their exercise routine, need be affected by their monthly period. Menstruation only becomes a problem when people refuse to regard it as a normal function of the female human body: when people stigmatize it, create myths about it, treat it as an illness, and put restrictions on females during their reproductive years.”
During the event, Islamic researcher, Mr. Mohamad Muheq, clarified that according to the teaching of the Qu’ran people must show empathy to women menstruating. “They need support, respect and privacy to be strong, but it is not an illness nor a problem,” and the principal of Bibi Wawa school, Jalalabad, Ms. Saifora Malikzai described how she combatted absenteeism amongst girls, by providing information and proper WASH facilities for the girls.
In his closing remarks, Deputy Minister of Education, HE Dr. Shinwari, emphasized that ‘Girls’ Hygiene Day’ marked the start of a practical approach to demonstrate that attention to the good health and hygiene of girls will encourage them to stay in school and make Afghanistan prosper.
According to a 2010 UNICEF study, 62 per cent of girls in Afghanistan managed their periods using old pieces of cloth; 30 per cent of the girls used new pieces of cloth and 8 per cent used sanitary pads. All girls reported knowing the importance of washing their hands after changing used materials, but only 20 per cent reported having access to soap. Further, a 2016 UNICEF study found that 70 per cent of girls do not bathe when the have their period, for the mistaken and dangerous believe that it may render them infertile. The study also found that 37 per cent of girls miss one or more days of school when they have their period – largely because of the absence of toilets and wash rooms to manage their periods.
VIA RELIEFWEB and Unicef Afghanistan