Promoting School WASH through the Global Sanitation Fund


WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) works with schools and the broader education sector to strengthen enabling environments and achieve sustainable sanitation and hygiene for all.

While maintaining its focus on supporting sanitation and hygiene movements to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.2, the GSF is linked to other SDGs, including SDG 4 focused on quality education.

Photo: As part of its Global Handwashing Day campaigns, the GSF-supported programme in Nigeria mobilizes students as ‘hygiene heroes’ – champions for good handwashing practices in their schools and communities. Credit: United Purpose

GSF-supported programmes aim for improved sanitation in entire administrative areas in each country, such as districts or communes. Central to this approach is achieving total community sanitation. This includes achieving open defecation free (ODF) status incorporating key settings beyond households, such as schools.

The main water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities supported by the GSF and linked to education include:

  • Collective sanitation and hygiene behaviour change in schools and through school activities
  • Advocacy and training targeting education-related stakeholders
  • Addressing the sanitation and hygiene needs of girls, including through promoting menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and separate facilities for girls and boys
  • Building partnerships and mobilizing resources

Why schools?

An entry-point for sustainable development: Schools are strategic entry points to achieve sustainable and transformational change. In addition, giving school-age children the tools and knowledge to change their sanitation behaviour leads to healthier and cleaner environments, both at school and in the community.

Health, school participation and learning: Nutritional deficiencies, diarrhoea and worm infestations are all related to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene, and all affect school participation and learning. Sanitation and hygiene programmes in schools lessen the spread of diseases, leading to a safer environment.

Addressing the needs of girls: Girls, specifically adolescents, have particular needs in terms of the availability of adequate sanitation facilities. Sanitation and hygiene facilities that are not safe, private or available lead to girls' reluctance to continue their education. A lack of separate and decent sanitation facilities discourages girls who are menstruating from attending school full time, which can add up to a significant proportion of school days missed.

The World Health Organization highlights that girls’ school attendance in particular is boosted by the provision of separate sanitation facilities. In addition, UN-Water estimated that nearly 200 million school days would have been gained if the sanitation targets under the Millennium Development Goals were met.

Photo: Students practice effective handwashing in Nepal. Credit: UN-Habitat Nepal

Promoting school WASH across GSF-supported countries

The GSF has supported sanitation and hygiene behaviour change activities in over 15,000 schools, through the 13 country-led and community-centred programmes.

Malawi: As part of the programme’s school WASH approach, mothers’ groups are encouraged to ensure that schools create an enabling environment for girls that are in their menstrual cycle through psychosocial support. School Management Committees (SMCs) and Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) are encouraged to promote hygiene and sanitation by allocating funds for improving sanitation infrastructure and procuring facilities.

Implementation partners also lobby for sanitation and hygiene investments in schools. In several schools, this has led to the construction of latrines and installation of handwashing facilities with soap. In addition, PTAs and SMCs are beneficiaries of funding from the School Investment Plan (SIP), established by the Government of Malawi through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. The GSF-supported programme sensitizes PTAs and SMCs to include WASH activities in their work supported by the SIP.

In 2016, the programme supported school WASH mainly through a complementary project funded by Plan International Canada.

Madagascar: In the country, schools and other public settings must have adequate sanitation facilities that are properly used for a community to be declared ODF. The programme has worked in close to 1,500 schools to date. In 2016, the programme began tracking school WASH activities in a more systematic way – as a result, 110 schools have been certified ‘Ami Ecole de WASH’ (‘school WASH-friendly’) by the Ministry of Education. This means that there is a handwashing facility with soap or ash, separate fly-proof latrines for girls and boys, and children have taken up key messages on sanitation and hygiene.

Nepal: Since its launch in 2010, the UN-Habitat managed programme has reached more than 3,700 schools (750,000 students) through School-Led Total Sanitation (SLTS) and other sanitation and hygiene behaviour change activities across 19 districts. Through this work, children’s clubs have been formed and strengthened, and students have been trained and mobilized for sanitation campaigns. Advocacy efforts have also been supported to break the taboo on menstruation in the country, where the chaupadi tradition continues to adversely affect the lives of girls attending school.

Tanzania: In 2016, the programme conducted training on the use and implementation of school WASH guidelines, targeting Local Government Areas. The programme also worked with Ward Education Officers, District Health Officers and school WASH coordinators on the development of a school WASH action plan, which is being implemented in three districts.  In addition, the programme worked to empower girls through school WASH clubs, which helped educate them in MHM. During Institutional Triggering sessions conducted in 24 wards, communities were encouraged to construct changing rooms for girls at schools. This work has helped the programme mobilize funds for the construction of these changing rooms as well as separate improved toilets for girls and boys.

Togo: Managed by UNICEF, the programme uses SLTS to trigger teachers, principals, educational advisors, school inspectors and other school officials. Following these triggering activities, all stakeholders involved support the development and implementation of action plans to bring both schools and surrounding communities to ODF status. Teachers are also provided with and trained in using SLTS kits, which are in line with the vision of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS).

The programme mobilizes students to continuously trigger and follow-up on their peers’ behaviour in schools, and even at home. Together, teachers and students develop sanitation and hygiene action plans for their school and conduct post-triggering sessions before class every Friday, which include publicly recognizing students whose parents have built latrines. Later in the afternoon, teachers and students visit the students’ houses while singing and dancing, to encourage parents to speed up the construction and use of latrines. The teachers and students also locate the community map in each community, to mark the households that have started using latrines, and a tool is used to track which school children are using latrines.

Kenya: In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, and with the participation of the Ministry of Education and the GSF-supported programme, WSSCC organized the first National Training of Trainers on Menstrual Hygiene Management in 2016. More than half of the 120 participants were education-related stakeholders. The programme has also trained lecturers from the Kenya Medical Training College in CLTS and WASH and nutrition, together with partners. It is now expected that the CLTS knowledge gained will be streamlined and incorporated in the lecturers’ training programmes.

Senegal: In addition to MHM sensitization and training, implementing partners have also facilitated the establishment of hygiene clubs in schools and the organization of art competitions around sanitation. Themes include handwashing with soap, clean environments, eradicating open defecation, and using and maintaining latrines. The best pieces have been displayed in schools and public spaces, aimed at sensitizing communities to adopt and maintain good sanitation and hygiene practices.