Female-friendly toilets in schools in Burkina Faso: A mixed-methods study using photoelicitation

Background An absence of gender-sensitive sanitation facilities in schools and the negative effects this has on girls has been widely discussed among advocacy groups, though less examined in academic spheres. Drawing on triangulated data, we outline current challenges and respondent-driven solutions to enhance the female-friendly nature of toilets in a context of extreme poverty. Methods This mixed-methods study was informed by the tenets of human-centred design. We first quantitatively assessed facilities in 14 secondary schools in the Kossi Province of Burkina Faso. We then collected qualitative data, including 15 focus group discussions and 53 in-depth interviews among schoolgirls, mothers, teachers and key informants. We applied photo-elicitation, a novel method, to explore perceptions of facilities and the desirability and feasibility of interventions to improve gender-friendly sanitation facilities. Results No school met international water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) standards for schools. Roughly one third of schools did not have water and, when present, there was no reliable way to use it within the toilet complex. Schoolgirls shared feelings of shame and stress when menstruating at school, and said that they would avoid using school toilets, if possible. Schoolgirls described water access as the most urgent need to address, followed by fostering privacy and facilitating cleanliness within facilities. Mothers and teachers mostly aligned with these priorities, while key informants additionally emphasised the need to raise awareness on both general and menstrual hygiene and to develop maintenance systems. Photo-elicitation engaged and empowered participants to pinpoint priorities and concrete solutions, namely a need for doors and locks, water containers and cleaning materials. Conclusions WASH needs in many schools remain unmet. Women and girls should be involved in decision-making across stages of intervention design and implementation. Young women’s voices merit greater inclusion in academic literature. Future interventions should enhance access to water and privacy. Future research could explore maintenance and monitoring strategies to develop guidance on sustainable solutions.