NEW YORK, Dec. 5, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- In the scorching hot and dry Mudug region of Somalia, 16-year-old Bisharo* sits in a cool room surrounded by 19 of her female classmates during the afternoon school break. The girls are attending a mentoring session in their newly built Girls' Friendly Space.
The Girls' Friendly Space is Bisharo's sanctuary – a safe space where she can read, eat, pray, relax, converse openly without interruption and access free menstrual hygiene kits. Not long ago, before the space was built, the girls at her school would race home during their break time to do these things, making them late for classes afterwards. Sometimes, they wouldn't even return to class. This resulted in them missing critical lessons.
Thanks to Education Cannot Wait (ECW) investments in Somalia – and the support of partners such as Save the Children – Bisharo and her classmates no longer need to leave school grounds for breaks, privacy and menstrual hygiene products. This leads to fewer disruptions to their education and a decreased chance of them dropping out of school altogether.
"Before the room was built, we used to go home during breaktime to rest and eat snacks, and we used to be late, get in trouble or even be marked absent. There were no private washrooms or a place to change or rest during the time of our menstrual cycle, which often forced us to stay at home for a few days and miss important lessons," says Bisharo.
Menstruation is considered a taboo topic in many parts of Somalia, creating stigma and deprivation for girls during menstruation. Like Bisharo, many girls lack access to basic and necessary hygiene items such as sanitary pads, leading many to skip school when they are on their period.
Missing school was frustrating for Bisharo. She worried about how it would affect her grades and spent a lot of time trying to catch up on the days of class she missed each month.
"Often, girls don't come to school on the first few days of their period because of the lack of privacy in the bathrooms or not having proper kits to manage themselves," says Fartun, Bisharo's teacher.
Thanks to ECW support, a Girls' Friendly Space was built in Bisharo's school to ensure girls always have access to female hygiene kits, privacy and an uninterrupted educational experience. The space, which is exclusively for girls, has a toilet, dining space, reading corner where girls study together, and it is equipped with sanitary kits. To date, ECW funding has provided more than 15,400 girls in Somalia, like Bisharo, with female hygiene kits.
"After this room was built, we benefited from it a lot. We rest, eat, revise and pray here. We have a place to chat comfortably about exams and lessons. We also use the space to talk privately with our female teachers – especially when we need advice," says Bisharo. Since the construction of the Girls' Friendly Space, Bisharo's school attendance has improved – as have her grades. She spends her free time studying with her friends there and is glad that the space has given her and her classmates a safe place to call their own.
Female teachers such as Fartun are happy that the girls can now meet and interact with each other outside of class time. The space has also been an ideal location for mentorship sessions.
"Although the space was built for girls in school, we, as female teachers, spend some time there to advise or help girls whenever they need. As a female teacher, girls usually come to me whenever they need help with something, and often it was hard for them to talk to me in the middle of all the male teachers. Now that there's a friendly space with privacy, it has become easier for them to talk freely and comfortably about whatever help they need," says Fartun.
The community has also seen the impact of the Girls' Friendly Space, with one mother and Community Education Committee Member, Sacdiya, saying, "It arose with a great demand from parents, students and school administration. When the room was launched, I felt relieved knowing my daughters had the space to feel comfortable, to rest, to read and revise and find menstrual kits whenever at school."
Since 2017, ECW has invested US$35.2 million in Somalia. ECW's investments in the country aim to improve school access and safety, and educational attainment for Somali girls and boys affected by conflicts and droughts.
To date, ECW and partners have reached close to 250,000 girls and boys in the country with holistic, quality education support. Still, more urgent support is needed. With more than 4.8 million children out of school today, additional funding is essential to ensure access to safe, inclusive education to those at risk of being left behind.
ECW calls on the international community to increase its support so that children and youth like Bisharo are given the educational opportunities and resources they need to stay in school, and continue to learn, dream and thrive.
*Names have been changed to protect identifying information
Story by Michaellah Mapotaringa, based on a case study by Save the Children.
Contact: Jelena Borak, firstname.lastname@example.org