Potty in pink: Rural school’s colourful washroom helping girls stay healthy

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School director Pouch Punlork and his students stand in front of the newly built washroom in Kampong Cham province. SUPPLIED

In a public high school in Kampong Cham province, a newly built bright pink washroom means more than just a place for female students to relieve themselves.

The facility is for the female students of Norodom Ranariddh Kantha Bopha High School to have access to a clean washroom in order to practice proper hygiene and to encourage school attendance even when it’s their time of the month.

Donated by the feminine care brand Libresse, the washroom contributes to initiatives to improve the quality of female’s lives in Cambodia.

Like women in other developing countries, finding a clean washroom in a public school is not easy, and it’s even more inconvenient for girls going through puberty who have added stress regarding menstruation.

Cambodian girls in rural area do not always have access to proper sanitation and adequate personal hygiene products.

This issue was raised in a qualitative study by author Nich Chea for her thesis titled Higher Education in Cambodia: Poor Rural Female Students’ Challenges, Motivations and Coping Strategies” highlighting the fact that over 34 per cent of Cambodian primary schools and secondary schools have no latrines.

The lack of such basic facilities partly contributes to the high dropout rate for young women after puberty when menstruation makes wash-up facilities a requirement.

Standing in front of the pink structure with two rows of toilets and two sets of long built in sinks with mirrors, school director Pouch Punlork is pleased to see his students happily making use of the facilities.

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Female students were given personal sanitary products to bring back home. SUPPLIED

Wearing facemasks and public school uniforms, the girls chatted and giggled with each other. The female students and teachers were also gifted with personal hygiene products including sanitary pads in pink bags.

“I’m glad to get the newly built toilet and sanitary pads for our female students and teachers. The toilet is 12 by 4 metres and is divided into male and female areas. Each has 3 rooms.

“It is covered in tiles and has a large hand-washing area which is quite convenient. It plays an important role in our daily lives in keeping good hygiene,” the public school director says, adding that the facility is beyond what he asked for.

“The contributions from the private sector to our school sets a good example for students, making them understand how businesses can give back to communities,” Punlork said.

The latrines being donated to selected public schools are intended for young female Cambodian students to improve their quality of life as the feminine care brand believes that having such clean facility at school allow girls to properly addressed and take care of themselves during menstruation.

According to Su Ting Nee, president of Vinda Group SEA, which has having Libresse under its wings, Cambodia’s norm also plays a vital role with how women at a young age are seen as part of the working force to help earn for the family’s subsistence and perform household chores concurrently. While boys on the other hand, are given priorities to be sent to schools.

“Moreover, most of these families don’t have adequate latrines, leading to health issues for the family members. Both access to quality and equitable education and healthcare facilities in rural areas are the challenges being faced by these young women, “ she says.

The adverse effects and severity of these difficulties affecting young women must not be underestimated, hence empowering them through equitable access to education and healthcare are powerful mechanisms that must be in place, she said.

“Information campaigns on the importance of education for all progressively shift the mindset of parents in giving priorities to educating their children, are pivotal for the realization of such goal.

“Taking care of health and hygiene is important for these young women to focus with their studies and finish attending schools.

“By obtaining the necessary education and life skills, these young women shall be enabled to utilise their full potential and fulfill their role in the society. And to finally live the life they want for themselves and for their families.

“Giving these young girls the opportunity to education while having the proper care for their health can go a long way in alleviating poverty in the country.

“Therefore, strong support coming from the private sectors, and their collaboration with the relevant government authorities are the best combination in addressing such difficulties being faced by these young women,” she says.

Having clearly defined and understood that the educational gap and sanitation problems must be addressed in the country, Libresse conducted an outreach programme through construction of toilets in selected public schools and one of them located at Kloy Ti 1 village in Mean commune of Preychor district, Kampong Cham province.

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The pink washroom has two rows of toilets and two sets of long built-in sinks with mirrors to provide more convenient washroom access to female students. SUPPLIED

The construction of the pink washroom started on March 5, a few days before International Women’s Day, and took 55 days to finish. It was donated to the high school to promote hygiene and make female students feel comfortable at school.

“This donation is part of our commitment towards creating a sustainable environment with social and governance practices to improve the quality of female’s lives in Cambodia,” she says.

She expects more attention from all parties toward the current situation happening to the quality of female’s lives in Cambodia especially in rural areas because of the importance of education for all.

The pink washroom is part of their campaign to normalise menstruation, in addition to the “Let’s Get Real” and “Period is Period” campaigns.

“This small step by Libresse raises and promotes the cleanliness and level of hygiene for the student’s benefits especially in rural areas of the country.

“We want to positively contribute to social needs, healthy lives, and where possible promote hygiene and well-being for all ages,” she says.

Once educated and leading healthy lives, Ting Nee is hoping that these young women will become an essential part of the country’s economy through productivity gained from a resilient attitude and a positive outlook towards life in general.

“We’re still works in progress with local authorities and agencies for the next initiative,” she says.