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How toilets and taps are helping Yemeni girls stay in school

Kids washing hands in a toilet sink

Young girls using the hand-washing station in their school

Young girls using the hand-washing station in their school

Access to education is a fundamental human right for all children, regardless of their gender. Moreover, ensuring that girls can go to school helps break the cycle of poverty. Research demonstrates that educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school.

The protracted conflict in Yemen has had a devastating toll on children’s education and wellbeing, especially on that of girls. Two out of every three Yemenis now rely on some form of humanitarian and protection assistance. 54 percent of those in need are children. Over 2 million school-age girls and boys are out of school.

A woman wearing a black and white veil
Safia*, is a high school student from Abyan

Safia*, 17 years old, is a high school student, and her school in Zinjibar district of Abyan governate had no water or hygiene items in toilets. She says: “When we needed the toilet, we used to go to the nearest house. It was uncomfortable to go to people’s houses to use the toilet every day.” Safia lives far away from her school, which made it difficult for her to go back home every time she needed to use the toilet.

Contaminated water, as well as poor sanitation and unhealthy hygiene behaviours, increases the risk of contracting diseases like COVID-19, cholera, diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases. This all makes it more difficult for girls to stay in school and become empowered through education. “If students don’t get clean water and a safe, comfortable environment, they will drop out of education and remain illiterate,” says Jamila*, a 43-years-old teacher from Abyan.

Evidence confirms that families prioritize boys’ education over girls due to safety concerns, a lack of proper water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, and the far distance to the nearest school. These issues drive higher drop-out rates among girls and hinder their ability to reach their full potential and have a better future.

“Female students are the most affected by the lack of water and proper WASH facilities in schools,” says a school principal from Abyan. “Unlike boys, they can’t relieve themselves in the open. And if they go back home to use toilets, they often don’t come back as they get busy with household chores such as cleaning and cooking and miss their classes.”

A total of 2,507 schools across Yemen have been affected by the conflict, including schools that have been destroyed by airstrikes or shelling or affected by rains and floods, as well as schools that are occupied by displaced families. Most schools that are still functioning need support with educational supplies and furniture.

A woman wearing a black burqa
Nawal*, 43 years old, is a school principal

“After years of conflict and neglect, school facilities are crumbling,” says 43-years-old Nawal*, a school principal. “The temperature in Abyan is high. Many students suffer from sunburn and faint as they play in the yard or stand in the assembly. Due to the deteriorating nutritional status of poor families, including displaced families, an increasing number of students are malnourished, and the long exposure to sunlight can negatively affect their immune system. We tried to shorten the assembly time for noon shifts, but that didn’t help much.”

Abeer*,15 years old, is a student in the ninth grade. Abeer received a head injury as she was running with her family after armed fighting erupted near their home. Worse yet, the family had a car accident as they rushed to flee. As a result of her injury, Abeer feels dizzy and can’t stand under direct sunlight, which prevents her from playing in the schoolyard and participating in the morning assembly.

“After my injury, I became incapable of handling hot weather because it makes me faint,” says Abeer. “I avoid walking or standing under sunlight when it’s most intense, especially at noontime. I have fainted in the schoolyard many times, so I stopped attending the assembly or playing in the yard.”

A group of women wearing black and white head coverings
Abeer* is a ninth-grade student from Abyan

To facilitate better access to education, particularly for girls, CARE, with funding from Yemen Humanitarian Fund (YHF), has worked with the Office of Education in Abyan, to rehabilitate the latrines in eight schools in Khanfar and Zinjibar districts in Abyan governate, and equip them with water tanks, hygiene items and hand-washing stations.

Hygiene awareness sessions were also conducted to teach students about good and safe hygiene practices, which they often pass on to their parents, siblings and other members of the community.

Safia, like the rest of the girls in the targeted schools, is thrilled to have clean water and latrines at school. “My friends and I stopped missing the classes because we have clean latrines with water, soap and handwashing stations,” she says.

Along with providing necessary kits such as first-aid kits, hygiene kits, dignity kits and recreational kits, the project installed shades and drinking water stations to protect students from the strong sunlight and heat. “Thanks to the new shade, now I can play with my friends in the schoolyard fearlessly,” says Abeer.

“Children have the right to learn in a safe environment,” says Nawal. “Now we hardly ever see students faint in the schoolyard. Watching students play safely under the shade makes me feel as contented as a mother who has finally got a safe roof to protect her children. We are grateful for CARE and YHF’s efforts in creating an improved learning environment for children in Abyan,” she concludes.

Access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene is essential for helping girls to stay in school Children have the right to feel safe and comfortable in school. Supporting water, sanitation and hygiene in the schools helps preserve students’ dignity and health.

A female student enjoying the cool water from the newly-installed drinking station in her school
Abeer and her friends playing under the newly-installed shade in their school
A man climbing a wall using a ladder
CARE staff member checking the newly-constructed water tank in one school in Abyan

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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