Adequate sanitation facilities and healthy nutrition has a positive impact on girls’ attendance in schools. Providing private and separate latrines in school and iron rich food increases the girls’ attendance rates.
Rina Kachhap from Indian state of Jharkhand dropped out of school when she was just 13-years-old. A lack of adequate sanitation facilities in her school coupled with anaemia were responsible for her dropping out.
“Although my school had separate toilets for boys and girls there was often no water,” says Rina. “I used to face a lot of problems to keep clean,” she says.
Rina’s mother says her daughter felt very weak during her first periods and would take to her bed. “We consulted the doctor who said it was a vitamin deficiency. Even after taking vitamin tablets, there was no improvement,” says Chari. "I was not feeling well and dropped out of school. Now I wonder what I could have done with my life if I stayed,” adds Rina.
Anaemia affects 56 per cent of adolescent girls in India and 70 per cent of girls in Jharkhand.These unacceptably high rates of anemia are largely due to the low iron content of women’s diet from early childhood to adulthood. This has devastating consequences for children’s physical growth, mental development and school performance.
Anganwadi worker Sheila Tirkey visited Kachhap’s home and explained the symptoms of anaemia and the need for adolescent girls to take iron tablets and eat a healthy balanced diet. “After taking the iron tablets, Rina started feeling better, and now she is perfectly fit,” her mother says.
Tirkey initially faced resistance from some families when she started the adolescent girls’ (kishori mandal) group in 2005 where every Saturday girls like Rina would come for their iron tablets and learn about health and menstrual hygiene and cultural arts and crafts.
Tirkey says, “Many parents were initially worried that girls were wasting their time, which they felt would be better utilised doing household chores,” “I had to convince the parents that during menstruation girls can fall sick.
Volunteers map homes in the village, visiting girls to make sure they come to the anganwadi centre to take their iron supplements, as well as promote breastfeeding and immunisation to new mothers and their families.
Supervised Iron Folic Acid (IFA) supplementation is the key to preventing anaemia, says Dr. Prakash Gurnani, the chief of the UNICEF field office in Jharkhand. UNICEF is supporting the state government in administering Folic Acid tablets weekly to school-going girls and out-of-school adolescent girls in five districts of the state.
“We’re reaching out to 2.8 million girls – two fifths in school and three-fifths out-of-school,” Dr. Gurnani says. “In just a few years, this program has changed the face of anaemia in the state.”