India

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School Girls Smiling

Making schools a safe place for girls

Malar** raises her hand to answer a question, excited she knows the answer and happy to be in class.

The shy, slim eighth grader lives on the East Coast of the Gulf of Mannar, a region in India where even the mention of sexual and reproductive health is taboo.

Here, adolescent girls know little of sexual health or hygiene, and schools do little, or nothing, to meet their needs. Girls miss school during their menstrual cycle because of shame and embarrassment, and the indignity of having nowhere private to wash, change or dispose of their menstrual pads. Many are afraid of being sexually assaulted walking outside of the safety of the school property to find privacy. Missed classes often lead to a decline in performance, and eventually, some girls drop out of school, increasing the likelihood they may get married or pregnant at an early age.

Together with donors, we are making schools safer for girls in India.

As of June 2014, we’ve renovated 11 toilets and constructed 10 urinals at 10 schools in the region where Malar lives, in villages including Vembar (North and South), Manickanagar, Kannirajapuram, Veppamarathupannai, Mookaiyur, Ponnagaram, Ervadi and Mutharaiyar Nagar.

We’re also working to remove the social stigma around menstruation. To do that, we’ve created a welcoming and safe space for mothers, teachers and girls to come together and talk each month. The discussions help families and teachers understand the challenges girls face in school, teach hygiene, and help girls feel less embarrassed about their monthly cycle. While Malar and the other students were shy to share their stories, they are happy to be at school each day alongside their classmates, and thankful their rights are now recognized and respected

**Name changed to protect privacy

“Like other girls of my age, I would have been forced to stay back at home embarrassed and ashamed. I would have been a school dropout.” — Malar, 13

Fall/Winter ChildVoice 2014

What We Do

We work to protect and improve the lives of children by helping them realize their basic human rights – nutritious food, clean water, health care and education. We empower children to grow up confident, know their rights, be active in the community, and take the lead in their own change.
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