Water and sanitation launches guidelines on menstrual health

Deputy Minister Pamela Tshwete and Xolisa Roman principal at Unathi Secondary School

Deputy Minister Pamela Tshwete and Xolisa Roman principal at Unathi Secondary School

Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation Pamela Tshwete recently launched the School Sanitation and Menstrual Hygiene Management Guidelines in East London.

The guidelines were developed by the Water Research Commission (WRC) in collaboration with the Eastern Cape Department of Education, Department of Water and Sanitation, Department of Social Development, Office of the Premier in the Eastern Cape, Department of Women in the Presidency and Amanz’abantu Services.

“The guidelines we are launching today address challenges that learners are facing, things that have made learners fear using their own sanitation facilities within their schools,” said Tshwete.

Emphasising her department’s co-ordinating role, Tshwete said: “Our role is to check the norms and standards; we facilitate other departments to make sure that services are effectively delivered to our people. We are involved in the process of teaching children how to conserve water and use sanitation facilities effectively.”

Tshwete linked the guideline to the “Safe School Sanitation” initiative launched in October by the President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, that aims to fast-track delivery and eradicate the backlog in sanitation. She believes that the success of the project will lead to improved school attendance and that fewer learners will miss schooling due to hygiene problems.

The guidelines stipulate that there should be at least three litres per learner per day to use for drinking and washing hands in schools. For cleaning of toilets the guidelines state that there should be at least two to eight litres per toilet cubicle per day. For flushing toilets that are connected to the sewer, there should be 20 to 40 litres per day.

In addition to water requirements at schools, the guidelines have set minimum sanitation requirements at schools, suggesting that at primary schools there should be one toilet per 25 learners and not more than 35 learners per toilet. Toilets should be as close as possible to classrooms and playing areas, not more than 30m from users, subject to health considerations.

The guidelines also pay special attention to the needs of girl children by creating a menstrual hygiene-friendly school sanitation environment. They encourage regular supply of appropriate sanitary materials to girls, availability of hand washing basins with clean water near toilet cubicles for privacy, and that a menstrual hygiene management plan is developed, implemented and reviewed.

Phil Kanise of Impilo Yabantu, who trained franchisees, said he saw great value in this project. His company was subcontracted to Amanz’abantu to train five franchisees in social entrepreneurship in East London. He sees the success of their project extending beyond the contracted time, as the guidelines will be used across schools to meet the minimum norms and standards. In addition, his company has secured sponsorship to continue supplying 10 schools in East London with sanitary pads for the next two months.

“We have developed an application that franchisees used in their training to populate information on the maintenance of sanitation facilities as well as all required operational needs in the area. This information will be easily accessed by departments, clubs or even the school governing bodies to help them keep the standards at the required level,” said Kanise.

Attesting to the success of the intervention and piloting on the guidelines,  principal of Unathi High School Xolisa Roman said:  “Unathi High School has been one of the beneficiaries of the project provided through Impilo Yabantu since August 2017. The team did an excellent job in terms of deep cleaning, which left our toilets very clean. The learners, especially girls, have always felt very happy to use the cleaned toilets and some learners would even say ‘singatyela kuzo’, meaning we can dine in the toilets.

“They have also done maintenance work at regular intervals, thus resulting in less water consumption and ultimately saving water. We sadly were told that the project is coming to an end; however, I want to believe there has been a transfer of skills so that we can continue to ensure that the dignity of our learners is not compromised in any way.”

The success of the implementation of the guidelines will depend largely on the partnerships that are formed with various stakeholders. Portia Makhanya, head of the Department of Water and Sanitation in the Eastern Cape, said: “Government alone cannot do it, hence the importance of partnerships.

The Water Research Commission is making sure that there is sustainability of such projects that have already been started. Health and hygiene are the most critical aspects that are being attended to in schools. There are operational challenges that need to be dealt with, and since government is putting specific focus on women, we believe we shall overcome.”

The guidelines are seen as a way of advancing the goals of the 2016 National Sanitation Policy as well as the regulations of the department of basic education, which carries the huge budget for school sanitation.

The guideline is a product of a Menstrual Hygiene Management Plan pilot at 10 schools in East London education district, part of a project funded by the African Development Bank in 2017 and 2018. — Ndavhe Ramakeula