Empowering adolescent girls through user-centred design

Themes: Behaviour change Gender Health impact Hygiene WASH
Countries: Madagascar Madagascar-local

Well-designed school toilets lay the foundation to change children’s hygiene behaviour.

Through user-centred design approaches, WSUP is working to best create facilities that are appropriate for girls to better manage their menstrual hygiene needs.

In Madagascar, around 40% of schools in the country lack latrines and the ones that exist are often not optimally designed as they don’t take into considerations the needs, wants and limitations of the children.

The lack of gender-friendly WASH facilities in schools, with adequate disposal facilities for menstrual hygiene products, means young girls find it difficult to manage their menstrual hygiene needs, and are particularly affected by the stigma associated with it – which contributes to discouraging them from school attendance.

School girls talking about hygiene practices

School girls talking about good hygiene practices

At WSUP we are always striving to ensure that our interventions respond to users’ needs. Through user-centred design approaches, we are developing insights into how to best renovate and construct sanitation blocks that are appropriate to the different needs of boys and girls. We give women and girls a voice by incorporating their recommendations into designs for sanitation blocks and water facilities.

Here’s our experience:

Aerial footage of school

Aerial footage of one of the primary schools – Ambohimandroso – (Image credit: Johan Mottelson)

Current situation

School shower roomA private and reasonably clean space to change pads and the ability to access clean water are crucial for good menstrual hygiene and this is included in every WSUP school toilet design as basic sanitation standard.

In our recent work in schools, we have been employing user-centred design approaches to ensure that facilities are designed with girls’ needs in mind.

However, through interviews and observation of the facilities in 17 schools, we uncovered that shower rooms that had been built in schools are often not used, thus having a limited positive impact. The shower rooms had been built to cater to the needs of girls during their periods as well as for students to use for general hygiene or after playing sports.  Most students feel more comfortable washing at home; others are too shy to ask the school guardians for the key to use the shower.

One student said, “I’m embarrassed to use the shower, as other students know that I have my period.” Another commented: “A tap in the toilet would be a lot better, it allows me to clean if necessary without anyone knowing that I have my period.”

High water bills and maintenance has also meant that these rooms remain locked in some schools preventing students from using them. As one teacher we interviewed said: “We have a whole shower block, but we don’t use it as the water bill will be too high.”

Going forward

Toilet cubicleWSUP’s Design Researcher, Jakob Kisker, heading the project remarks, “Based on our findings and interviews with different stakeholders, we have come to a decision to construct a dedicated shower room only if the school specifically asks for it but will always construct toilet cubicles that allow students to wash. By adapting our school toilet design that includes a tap and a dust bin in each cubicle will give girls the desired discretion they need during their periods.”

The first five schools with this new design will be constructed by August this year. Applying a build-measure-learn mindset, once the toilets are in use we will assess if our interventions are successful thus informing the next round of school toilets. This will ensure that school infrastructure caters in the best way possible to menstruating girls enabling them to focus on learning rather than worrying.

This project is part of our broader work of improving water, sanitation and hygiene in schools.

Read more about WSUP’s work in Madagascar.

The work described in this article is funded by Cartier Philanthropy and Dubai Cares.