Dignified Menstruation in Bhutan
Karma Choida, Vice Principal at Choekhorling Middle Secondary School, Sarpang, Bhutan
As the only son in the family with five sisters who are all elder to me, I have never heard anything about menstruation. The topic was never spoken of among sisters, between mother and my sisters. During my high school days, I remember my female friends not being able to go to the shops to buy sanitary napkins. I saw them visiting the shops hiding from others or asking a younger child who doesn’t have any idea about menstruation. When we ask them about it out of curiosity, they would say, they have gone to buy bread and biscuits which meant sanitary napkin. They used to break into laughter saying this and we used to wonder at their laughter. Similarly, when we were invited in their house, they will ensure that their pieces of clothes (used in place of sanitary pads) are hidden from the sight. We were never bothered about their menstruation but it was how they took it. They always thought that men will mock them or gossip about their menstruation, which we never did. There was a belief that it is not all important to share about menstruation to men. The society also strongly believed that entering shrines and temples are restricted during menstruation.
We have some shy girls out there in the remote parts of the country who are still hiding behind. There are cultures in some communities which still doesn’t allow any female member in the family to enter kitchens and shrines during menstruation. Quite interestingly, there are girls who doesn’t want to enter kitchen or do prayers during the menstruation even if they are allowed. They have lived with the belief for so long that they are ruled by it. As a result, it has become automatic or natural to see them withdraw from any such activities during their menstruation.
Bhutan and her farsighted plans have always encouraged women in all spheres of decision-making processes. Through the inclusion of life skills education in schools across the country, it equips children with multifaceted life skills required to face any conflicts in life. School girls use the coping skills to cope with the management of menstrual problems. Moreover, the Ministry of Education in collaboration with UNICEF has instituted WASH (water and sanitation hygiene) in all schools to promote and inculcate healthy living habits. The wash facilities designated specially for girls are helping girls to cope with stress related to menstruation. These are two examples out of many that caters to the menstrual hygiene in schools.
So, to combat menstruation related taboos, UNICEF in collaboration with Ministry of Education conducted a study on knowledge, attitude, and practices study in Bhutan. According to the study, 83% of the schoolgirls recognized menstruation as a physiological process, 2% of them defined it as a disease. And about 5.2 % of the schoolgirls considered menstruation as a curse. The findings also included 42% of the girls received first-hand information on menstruation from their mothers.
Subsequently, wash programs are successfully implemented in all the schools across the nation. It has helped the schoolgirls to maintain hygiene during menstruation. Moreover, awareness on menstruation and the misconception surrounding it are also addressed through awareness programs at all levels. Every year on 28th May, the schools and communities join the world in celebrating Global Menstrual hygiene day. On this day, speeches on united efforts to combat menstrual related problems followed by schoolboys and male staff gifting schoolgirls and female staff with sanitary napkins. All these are evident to show that we have travelled a long way.
Today, menstruation is viewed as normal, natural and acceptable. Moreover, the male members of the family understand their situations and help complete the household chores. These days, the topic menstruation is a common agenda at the policy level, homes, and schools. There are posters about menstruation related messages. What was seen as a curse long time back has now become everyone’s priority topic. My daughters openly share about it and I buy them the sanitary napkins. I ask them openly about it. Furthermore, in schools and communities, we celebrate MHM (Menstrual hygiene Management) Day by wishing girl students and female colleagues with sanitary napkins. On this day, men honor ladies and their spirits and Morales are lifted high in society. From all these instances, I realized that we have travelled far in terms of education and exposure. In doing so, we are also promoting gender equality.