MAIN STORY: Sitting in one of the classes in Zilnon Namgyeling Primary School in Thimphu is Sonam who is older than most of her female classmates.
The 15 year-old is also the first in her class who experienced her first menstruation. It was when she was studying in Class I, two years ago, when her first menstruation took place.
With a faint blush on her face, Sonam, said she was scared when she first experienced it, after which she rushed home.
“I immediately told my elder sister and asked her whether I was sick,” Sonam said. “She carefully explained it to me that it was natural for all girls and that it was completely normal.”
After some comfort from her elder friends, Sonam understood what was happening to her. She then began her journey into womanhood and into the world of sanitary pads and menstrual hygiene.
“I only talk about my menstruation to my mother and sister apart from my female teachers. I can’t talk about it to my father or any other male,” she said. “I don’t feel comfortable about it with them.”
Today, girls like Sonam are taught first-hand by their mother and elder sisters about how to use sanitary pads and maintain menstrual hygiene. The second important place where they learn about this important topic is at their school.
Health coordinators and teachers at the Zilnon Namgyeling Primary School are especially busy this week. They are modifying and sewing re-usable sanitary pads, which was designed and distributed by Comprehensive School Health Division (CSHD) under the Department of Youth and Sports last year.
With assistance from the wives of Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), the school has sewed more than 600 sanitary pads to be distributed in the school, central schools and nunneries in other dzongkhags.
A teacher at the school, Euden, said these re-usable sanitary pads are made out of old cotton cloths and umbrella to avoid the leakage and are sewn into a wing shaped, which are enclosed with a button.
“I advise girls and woman I meet to use the re-usable sanitary pads, which are not only safe but also environmentally sound,” Euden said. “The only problem is that one has to wash them after using it.”
Euden said that she has been using re-usable sanitary pads for more than year and it is the most comfortable sanitary pad she has ever used. “Also, it is a great alternative to using the commercial sanitary pads that usually expensive and cause irritation.”
Sonam is one such student at the school who has been using the re-usable sanitary pads for more than a year.
After success at the school, the teachers started advocating and teaching the mothers and wives of RBP as well, Euden said. The teachers also designed another re-usable sanitary cloth to use during normal flows. The additional cloth comes in to be stacked on the other re-usable pad, which are held by a hoop made from cotton cloth to hold it.
To make it more appealing to the girls and women who use it, these re-usable sanitary pads are called Aums and Bums.
Chief programme officer of CSHD, Sherub Phuntsho, said that no matter how open Bhutanese society is, most people, especially fathers and young boys, are reluctant to talk about menstruation even today.
“Talking about menstruation has always been a socially constructed taboo and access to sanitary supplies to adolescent girls has also not been given due attention,” Sherub Phuntsho said. “We hope that through such initiatives by our colleagues at the CSHD, this impertinent issue will be addressed.”
He added that CSHD wants to let everyone know that when girls are experiencing menstruation, it is totally normal. “There shouldn’t be any stigma or taboo attached to it. I hope girls will also not feel shy to talk about it.”
However, there are also some instances where schoolgirls often miss their classes because they don’t have access to sanitary pads, clean toilets and water facilities at their school, Sherub Phuntsho said.
According to a study conducted by the UNICEF, it was found that menstruation and its special need for hygiene management was a topic not much discussed or attended to by most schools. The numbers of latrines provided to the boys were taken to be suitable for girls, too. However, the interaction with the girl students clearly indicated the difficulties they faced when there is a water problem and no proper toilets, the report states.
“Disposing of the sanitary pad was another problem faced by the schools. A few of the schools in the study reported provision of a separate toilet unit, bins or pits for disposal of sanitary pads, while a few urban schools had stockpiled sanitary napkins to be used on a refundable basis,” further states the report.
The study also states that the inadequacy and non-functionality of water and sanitation facilities in most schools affect girls more than boys. Providing toilet facilities for girls and women not only requires a physical structure, but also needs to address the issues of privacy, safety, convenience and cleanliness.
Education ministry’s annual education statistics 2015 also found that water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools could have a significant positive impact in schools, both on child health and on education outcomes.
The report states that safe, adequate water and sanitation facilities in schools, coupled with hygiene education reduce the incidence of diarrhea and other hygiene-related diseases. WASH in schools addresses needs of adolescent girls to attend schools regularly with pride and dignity.
Despite the issues and socially constructed taboos surrounding menstruation today, Tashi Wangmo, 17, studying in Motithang Higher Secondary School, openly discusses the topic with her family and friends.
“I was scared when I first had my menstruation but now I realized that this was something normal for every female and there is no need to feel shy,” Tashi Wangmo said. “I also let boys know that it’s normal if they tease me. I think it is time that we openly discuss it and not have any reservations. Girls need to feel safe and secure, not only at their homes but at the schools too.”.
(3 – 7 days)
The lining of the womb thickens in preparation for eggs
Day 18 -25
If fertilization has not taken place the corpus luteum fades away
Day 26 -28
The uterine lining detaches leading to mensuration
By Thinley Zangmo