Clean Hands are within reach, but they need to be in reach for all

A child and a meri in PNG show off a community tap stand.

A boy washes his hands using a newly installed tap in a village where Water for Women partner, World Vision PNG is working with the community to improve WASH services (World Vision / Abbegail Wafi).


Today marks two very important days – Global Handwashing Day and the International Day of Rural Women.

Both are interlinked in many ways, but there is one critical connection that is particularly worthy of reflection today - menstrual health and hygiene (MHH).

Focusing on MHH has far reaching benefits, not just in terms of hand hygiene for all, but also in terms of enabling the wider participation of women, girls and people who menstruate, who have much to contribute for building resilience in their communities and beyond.

“Our girls are clean and safe now, and happy to sit in class all day” says Mrs. Jake, a parent of a student from a school in Papua New Guinea.

In September this year, Water for Women’s Gender, Disability and Social Inclusion Advisor, Jose Mott visited one of Water for Women’s project sites in Markham District in Morobe province of PNG, where partner World Vision PNG is implementing elements of the WASH Em I Bikpela Samting (“WASH is important”) project as part of the Australian Government supported Papua New Guinea WASH Consortium. With the World Vision team, Jose visited one of the local primary schools being supported with WASH service provision. Here, Jose was able to witness first-hand the tangible results of the project, and how the school is working towards making sure “clean hands are within reach” for all through a range of WASH  activities and importantly, by actively de-stigmatising menstruation, which has long been a cultural taboo in Papua New Guinea.

As World Vision PNG Project Manager, Everlyn Mikasimo shared during her recent presentation the recent Pacific Resilience Meeting 2023, 'We are breaking cultural taboos and stigma, deeply rooted in many cultures, that lead to discrimination and exclusion. We are addressing this in schools by providing discreet menstrual hygiene education for all and providing menstrual hygiene facilities, including incinerators, so that girls don’t miss out on education for several days each month.
We do open discussions in communities and schools with men and boys to foster better understanding and encourage positive attitudes towards women and girls to manage menstruation with dignity. In ensuring low-cost menstrual pads, women and girls are introduced to production and use of reusable sanitary pads (cloths).”  
A community in PNG celebrates a new toilet block

A primary school community celebrates their newly opened toilet facility in Markham district, PNG (World Vision / Abbegail Wafi)


So how do we ensure clean hands are within reach for all?


It starts with providing inclusive WASH infrastructure and an enabling environment - this is critical to ensure clean hands are within reach for all.

The key elements to achieving this are principally related to systems and norms change which support the principles of equity and inclusion:

  • A strong systems approach which takes into account the diverse needs and situations of all in the community (age, gender, ethnicity, ability etc.) in policy and planning processes
  • Ongoing community and stakeholder engagement, including supporting processes for co-design
  • An intentional focus on transforming social norms to drive safe and hygienic WASH behaviours

Through World Vision's project, the school community (including students, teachers, parents and the school administration board) have been working towards making clean hand within reach for all, through:

  • Inclusive design of toilets to support accessibility and MHH needs (handwashing stations, privacy, incinerator for safe pad disposal and clothesline for drying re-usable pads)
  • Free pad provision (implementation of government policy)
  • Shifting harmful norms (supporting the establishment of the Student Health and Hygiene clubs for positive hygiene and MHH messaging).

“There is now less absenteeism and higher academic performance of the girls at our school. And the boys don’t seem to tease the girls as much about menstruation”
Mr. Linny, Head Teacher

In a cultural context where menstruation is a strong taboo and therefore cannot be openly discussed, the impact of these initiatives has been significant. In most of the speeches given during the visit (male and female student health and hygiene club members; one parent; the Head Teacher, and the Head of the School Administration Board), explicit references to MHH were made, including the benefits of these changes to girls’ attendance at school and their ongoing participation in school activities – this is profound and transformative change at work, impacting not only the lives and futures of these girls, but also flowing through to influence the wider community positively.

Some people survey a newly built brick incinerator at a primary school for managing menstrual health and hygiene products
An incinerator built for a primary school for safe menstrual pad disposal (World Vision / Abbegail Wafi)

Clean hands are capable hands

The International Day of Rural Women is about recognising the vital contributions rural women make to all areas of life - health, family, community, food and water systems. These valuable roles that are often rendered invisible. Today is also about highlighting that rural women’s access to education is more limited which affects their capacity to participate in formal work sectors and wider decision-making processes, though their contributions in these arenas are not only hugely valuable but critical.

Changing this means changing outcomes for rural women and their families – particularly critical at a time when escalating climate hazards are further exacerbating the security of many aspects of community life including local food and water management systems.

Inclusive WASH in schools is an effective circuit breaker.  

Safe food preparation depends on clean hands. Clean hands depend on safely managed WASH infrastructure and hand hygiene behaviour change. Schools play a critical role in reinforcing these behaviours from an early age, and as an integral part of the wider community, they can be a key influencing force. This must include supporting an enabling environment for women and girls to safely manage their menstruation, so that they can actively participate in school life, and later in broader public life, with the full support of their family and community.


A community in PNG celebrates a newly installed tap stand
Read more on #GlobalHandwashingDay and #RuralWomens Day

Hand in hand: Putting clean hands within reach through equitable WASH access

October 15th is Global Handwashing Day and Rural Women’s Day — celebrating the life changing and lifesaving power of handwashing with water and soap and recognising the invaluable contributions of rural women to development globally. 

Rural women are at the frontlines of our changing climate and as water and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) experts in their communities, they are key to building resilience. We must accelerate women’s empowerment at all levels.

Although there is still progress to be made, clean hands and gender equality are within reach! Both have the power to create a better and fairer world, but both require equitable access to clean and safe WASH.

Together with our partners across the Asia-Pacific region we are working to ensure that clean hands are within reach for all and empowering everyone to be part of WASH decision-making and contribute to solutions – including women, people with disabilities and people from minority and marginalised groups. Everyone has a role to play.


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