Working for health and dignity of school girls in East Kwaio

Thursday, May 28, 2020

“I am a mum and I want girls to go to school, every week of the month,” says Dorothy Esau.

Mrs Dorothy Esau is a mother, and Secretary of the Baru Conservation Alliance in East Kwaio, Solomon Islands. She is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of girls and women in both mountain and coastal communities in East Kwaio by leading efforts to improve menstrual health and hygiene, and sanitation for women.

In the remote mountains of East Kwaio, Dorothy and the Baru Conservation Alliance team are carefully negotiating locally appropriate toilet facilities for women at Kwaina’isi Cultural Centre, following a donation from the Australian Museum. This involves many tribal leaders to ensure the new toilets suit local beliefs and traditions.

On the coast, only one school has running water and none have dedicated sanitation for students. Dorothy’s focus is now to improve menstrual health and hygiene for girls by providing water and sanitation in schools that specifically cater for girl’s needs.

Dorothy works at the grass-roots. She daily lives the reality that experts write about in reports: “that women and girls in the Pacific with access to menstrual health and hygiene services, products and facilities enjoy a higher level of health, dignity, autonomy and control over their lives (Criterion Institute and Pacific RISE, 2018). Dorothy wants to enable that dignity for girls of East Kwaio.

Working with senior female teachers and a student nurse, and supported by public health researchers from Atoifi Health Research Group, in 2020 Dorothy is leading a project to raise awareness of menstrual health and hygiene. The project will also explore locally appropriate solutions with girls at two local schools. A pad-making initiative to sew pads for the school girls and a parallel program which raises awareness with boys, women and men in local villages about MHH are planned for 2020.

Funding for these activities has been provided by the College of Medicine and Dentistry at JCU and in-kind support is being provided through support of expertise from Hunter New England Health.

For more information, please contact Baru Conservation Alliance:

You can read more information about Pacific responses to menstruation management here:

Photo (supplied by D. MacLaren): Dorothy Esau, Baru Conservation Alliance (left) with women from the Kwaina’isi Cultural Centre and Michelle Redman-MacLaren, James Cook University (2nd from right), during a Baru Conservation Alliance Planning Workshop in February, 2020 (pre-social distancing).