Closing the gender education gap: Accessible toilets provide safety and equality for students in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
A critical need for toilets: Empowering students in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Having a toilet at home is a luxury for many children in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Therefore, the availability of toilet facilities at schools becomes critical. Unfortunately, the lack of proper sanitation and inadequate access to toilets pose numerous challenges. It increases the likelihood of students skipping school or dropping out, especially when girls do not feel safe using the facilities and children with disabilities cannot access them. Girls-only and accessible toilets provide privacy and safety and draw needed attention to closing the gender education gap.
Parents Teacher Council steps up: Transforming the toilet situation
The Parents Teacher Council (PTC) of Pirpiai No. 3 State Primary School in Nowshera faced a similar predicament. Previously attended exclusively by boys, the school now accepts girls as well, including six children with disabilities. The gender-neutral toilets at the school became a concern for the PTC, and they embarked on a journey to ensure equal access and inclusivity for all students.
Principal Sartaj Ali highlights the PTC's role in advocating for the school and its children, explaining that they take responsibility for identifying and solving problems.
“One of the goals of the Parent Teacher Council is to advocate for the interests of the school and the children. Parent Teacher Council members identify problems and take responsibility for solving them.”
From gender-neutral to inclusive
Recognising the pressing need for change, the PTC sprang into action after attending the gender and disability training. They developed the school‘s disability action plan, and with the support of the principal, reworked the existing five gender-neutral toilets. Through their efforts, separate washrooms were created for girls, boys, children with disabilities, and teachers.
PTC member Shah Hassan, who has a disability himself, emphasises the importance of considering disability aspects in toilet facilities. He expresses gratitude for the transformation that has positively impacted the students' lives.
“When building toilets, the disability aspect is often not considered. As a person with a disability, I understand the children's problems, and I am glad we were able to change the situation for our students.”
The impact of gender-segregated toilets
The introduction of gender-segregated toilets resulted in significant improvement in school attendance rates. Students, especially girls and children with disabilities, experienced reduced mental stress when using the facilities. Accessible toilets provided girls with a safe and hygienic experience, especially during menstruation.
Eight-year-old Shah Meena, a third-grade student, expresses her feelings of security and confidence with the new dedicated girls’ toilet.
“We feel secure and less hesitant while using the toilet because it has now been tagged and is used by girls only.”
Zarin Khan, an eight-year-old fourth-grade student with a disability, expresses gratitude for the prompt response and construction of an accessible washroom.
“I always faced discomfort whenever I used the toilet. They were not disability friendly. I am really thankful to the Head Teacher and the PTC members for their prompt response and the construction of an accessible washroom.”
Expanding the impact
The success of the project at Pirpiai No. 3 State Primary School has paved the way for broader impact. With the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), accessible toilets have now been constructed in nine other schools, ensuring that more students can benefit from safe and inclusive facilities.
By prioritising the needs of all students and working together as a community, Pirpiai No. 3 State Primary School has become an inspiring example of how small actions can create a significant positive impact. The provision of accessible toilets not only closes the gender education gap but also empowers students with disabilities to overcome obstacles and thrive in their education, paving the way for a brighter future for all.