An image of 4 children in a school classroom

Dispatch from UNESCO India: Larissa Prata Varella’s second blog from the virtual field

Photo credit: Whisper India

By: Larissa Prata Varella, MIPP student

In my last blog post, I gave you an overview of interning in the Education Sector of the UNESCO New Delhi office. Today, I would like to focus on a specific project that has been the core focus of my experience with the team: the #KeepGirlsInSchool programme developed as a partnership between Procter & Gamble and UNESCO.

I have a Master of Science in Global Health from Trinity College Dublin, and I am interested in global health governance, particularly in terms of improving the leadership of women from the Global South in the field. My research interests rely on the intersectionality between health and education efforts in the Global South, particularly in terms of the role of women in improving social determinants of health of communities through health education. I am also interested in understanding women’s role in reducing health inequities between low- and middle-income countries and high-income countries. So, when I learned I would have the opportunity to support the #KeepGirlsInSchool initiative, I was beyond thrilled!

Girls’ education remains a strategic development priority for UN agencies and many governments worldwide, including those from the countries covered by the UNESCO New Delhi office’s mandate. Almost one-third of countries today significantly fall behind in gender parity in primary education, and less than half as many girls as boys are in lower secondary grades[1]. Even though education is a fundamental human right, many girls are prevented from getting a complete education in developing countries because they are expected to fulfill certain social roles or because of misinformation and taboos surrounding menstruation.

In India, for example, 1 out of 5 girls drop out of school when they get their periods.[2] This happens because of daily challenges such as inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, unavailability of menstrual care products, and inability to maintain their menstrual hygiene in a private, safe, and dignified manner, resulting in school absenteeism. In this context and light of the commitments made by the Indian government during the 2022 Transforming Education Summit (TES), I am grateful that our primary focus has been working on initiatives that aim to keep girls in school by providing much necessary information regarding menstrual health and hygiene management (MHHM) to teachers, parents, and the community. The team and I have been reviewing drafts of teaching-learning modules on several topics – such as Disability and Nutrition – and ensuring gender and disability inclusivity to improve menstrual health and hygiene management (MHHM) and education in the region.

It has been a valuable opportunity to learn so much about UNESCO New Delhi’s efforts in reshaping local social taboos and misconceptions regarding menstruation to ensure girls in the region receive a quality education. I appreciate my experiences so far, and I look forward to the ones to come!

[1] UN News Centre. “Promoting Girls Education Is a Priority | Division for Inclusive Social Development (DISD).” United Nations. United Nations. Accessed April 5, 2023.

[2] Whisper India. “Keep Girls in School.” About KGIS: Keep Girls In School – Information & More. Whisper India, May 4, 2021.

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