The menstrual hygiene day was observed in Trashigang yesterday

She was nine when she first got her period. “Am I hurt?” asked Karma Wangmo (name changed) to her mother.

Today Karma Wangmo, who is 19, is aware of the monthly menstrual cycle that girls experience when they hit puberty. “But I’m sure there are many young girls who are unaware of this experience,” she said. “It is a scary experience to go through especially when you do not know why it happens.”

She said mensuration still remains a taboo in the society and there are hardly any women who talk about it openly.

In order to create awareness on mensuration management, the menstrual hygiene day was observed at Jigme Sherubling Central School in Khaling, Trashigang yesterday.  Students, including those from Muenselling Institute for the Visually Impaired and nuns and members of the community attended the daylong programme.

Deputy chief programme officer with the education ministry’s school health and nutrition division, Deki Tshomo, said the programme was organised not only to impart awareness among the women and girls but also to men and boys so that they understand the issue and support them both physically and morally.

“Often mensuration is treated like a disease. It is not: Women and girls having mensuration should not be looked down,” Deki Tshomo said. “Mensuration is a natural phenomenon and it will happen to all female from a certain period of her life. It in fact is an indication of a healthy body.”

During a presentation, when a sanitary pad covered in blood was displayed to the gathering, faint murmurs grew among the audience. There were giggles and remarks such as, “why are they showing us this,” made in the local dialect.

Deki Tshomo said there are no written rules forbidding women from social activities and entering places like kitchen and altar during her periods. “These stereotypical beliefs are carried on from generations and are still being practised in some parts of our society.” She said the practise is strong among orthodox families in the country.

However, people are becoming more aware on menstrual hygiene today, Sanga Choden, a class 12 student of Jigme Sherubling said. She attributed the change to the several awareness programmes conducted on menstrual hygiene in schools.

“Such programmes should not only be restricted to schools but be conduced frequently especially in the rural pockets where people are uneducated and need to be made aware,” the 20-year-old said. “Even boys know about mensuration now and have become less critical.”

Deki Tshomo said the ministry along with its partners SNV and UNICEF are constantly carrying out similar campaigns and the response from participants has been positive to date.

Younten Tshedup | Khaling