One of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, Tonga, faced widespread devastation from Tropical Cyclone Gita in February 2018. The country’s education infrastructure was not spared: more than 100 schools were severely damaged or destroyed by the storm.

While Tonga has made impressive headway in its recovery and reconstruction in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Gita, the national government recognizes that building the resilience of all its citizens, including women and girls, will be critical to the longer-term sustainability of that progress.

In partnership with the Australian government and the World Bank, GFDRR has supported an analytical study on gender inclusion of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Tongan schools—with an eye for unpacking and assessing the gender gap in WASH facilities and informing a way forward for tackling the gap.

A first step for the technical team on the ground was to collect baseline data and information regarding the condition of WASH facilities in Tongan schools and the disproportionate impact inadequate facilities may have on female students. This is the first time that this effort was undertaken in Tonga.

The team subsequently engaged in extensive interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders from 10 Tongan schools—including teachers, parents, students, and staff—in order to get a better grasp of the gender gap. Interviews and focus groups with female stakeholders were conducted separately to help ensure the validity of the study. The team also conducted site visits in each of the 10 schools and conducted a survey of over 500 students on their WASH practices as well as their gender attitudes. The schools surveyed were designed to be representative of the Tongan education sector, accounting for geographic location, school type, levels of education taught, and gender mix.


A survey of over 500 students on their WASH practices revealed that 34 percent of post-pubescent girls at primary school and 32 percent at secondary school prefer not to use school WASH facilities during menstruation

Drawing on this comprehensive, multi-methods approach, the team uncovered several important findings that are now driving and informing the national government’s efforts toward closing the gender gap in education, WASH, and beyond, including through the ongoing revision of health and safety standards for WASH facilities in schools.

For starters, the study revealed that while the latrine-pupil ratio at Tongan schools is generally better than the regional basic standards of 1:40 for girls and 1:60 for boys, equity of access for girls and boys is often lacking. In some schools, girls are disadvantaged, while in others it is boys who are disadvantaged. WASH facilities that do exist are typically in poor condition and often lack gender-appropriate WASH facilities such as locks on bathroom doors and sufficient lighting, as well as menstrual hygiene management materials including waste disposal and hand wash dispensers. Furthermore, most WASH facilities do not cater to the needs of people with disabilities.

Moreover, the study also identified some of the ways the gender gap in WASH facilities in Tongan schools is undermining national efforts toward gender equality. For example, approximately 34 percent of post-pubescent girls at primary school and 32 percent at secondary school who were surveyed said that they prefer not to use WASH facilities on school grounds, which can have negative implications for school attendance.

The team has developed an action plan proposing a set of strategic recommendations, paired with progress indicators, for the national government to consider as it carries out efforts to tackle these challenges. Drawing on regional and global experience, the team highlighted the importance of strengthening policy guidance for gender-inclusive WASH in schools and the need to promote a culture of gender-inclusive WASH management in the country’s education sector, among other key recommendations.

These recommendations are also informing the World Bank–supported Pacific Resilience Program (PREP), which, among other support, is providing nearly $14 million in IDA funding and nearly $2 million in funding from Australia toward the resilient reconstruction and repair of 25 Tongan schools affected by Tropical Cyclone Gita. Under PREP, the team has developed design standards for gender-inclusive WASH facilities tailored to the local context. By March 2021, the Tongan government will construct 18 schools in accordance with these standards.


Informed by the findings of the assessment, the government of Tonga is now more determined than ever to close the gender gap in WASH facilities at Tongan schools. But to move forward, there has been a need to make those findings more readily applicable and fit for purpose for the national government’s ongoing efforts toward resilient school infrastructure. Accordingly, the team has worked with Tongan authorities to develop design standards that are tailored to the local context for gender-inclusive WASH facilities in schools.