Dechen Dolkar

The government yesterday committed to making all schools in Bhutan period-friendly within five years to strengthen and improve menstrual health and hygiene management.

The Minister for Education and Skills Development (MoSD), Yeezang De Thapa, made this announcement at Norbugang Central School in Samtse during the observance of Menstrual Hygiene Day.

This commitment looks achievable because 63 percent of schools in Bhutan have disposal mechanisms for menstrual hygiene waste, compared to the global average of 31 percent. Besides, 41 percent of schools have covered disposal bins for menstrual hygiene waste, and 46 percent have changing rooms for menstrual hygiene management.

“A period-friendly society must have sound policies that ensure inclusive, affordable and accessible menstrual products and services for all so that no one has to choose between managing their period and participating in daily activities,” said Lyonpo Yeezang De Thapa.

It was noted that schools should have clean facilities with reliable water supplies to ensure hygienic and safe conditions for menstruating women. They should also provide adequate privacy with secure doors and partitions, proper disposal bins for menstrual waste, and access to basic menstrual products, such as sanitary pads, during emergencies.

The education minister said that with the support of development partners and civil society organisations (CSOs), making Bhutan a period-friendly country is an achievable target for Red Dot Bhutan.

She acknowledged that some important achievements have been made over a decade through Red Dot Bhutan, an advocacy platform to raise awareness on menstrual hygiene management under the royal patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck.

As the lead for Red Dot Bhutan, the MoSD will provide the support required for this collective endeavour.

In a video message, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said, “On Menstrual Hygiene Day, I want to highlight the importance of raising awareness and breaking the taboos surrounding menstruation. For this, education, advocacy and open conversations are crucial among us, especially men and boys.”

In a similar tone, SNV Country Director Kencho Wangdi said that for a period-friendly Bhutan, the roles and support of fathers, teachers, brothers and male colleagues are crucial. “Also important, if not more, are addressing menstrual health and hygiene needs and challenges of women and girls with disabilities,” he said.

The UNICEF representative to Bhutan, Andrea James, said that UNICEF will support the education ministry and partners to achieve the target and give young girl and women in Bhutan access to inclusive period-friendly facilities.

“Bhutan’s progress in menstrual hygiene is commendable,” she said.

A report released by UNICEF and WHO titled ‘Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in Schools 2000-2023’ says that Bhutan is among the 24 out of 51 countries on track to reach universal coverage for basic sanitation by 2030.

Basic sanitation service means schools have improved sanitation facilities that are single-sex and usable.

More than 10,000 teachers and students from Samtse Dzongkhag attended the observance of Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Sharing her experience of menstruating for the first time at 11, Yeshi Tshojung Dema, a 13-year-old class eight student of Norbugang Central School, said she went through a mixture of emotions. “There was a sense of pride on reaching that milestone mixed with a surge of anxiety about how to handle it discreetly in a school environment,” she said.

Yeshi shared moments of embarrassment and awkwardness when she had to discreetly slip pads into the pockets of her bag hoping no one would notice it.

She said one of the biggest challenges she faced was overcoming the stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation. “Despite living in a relatively progressive society, discussions about periods were often hushed and veiled in secrecy,” she said. “This made it difficult to seek help or advice when needed.”

Srijan Adhikari, a class ten student from the same school, said that menstruation is often treated with discretion at school. “While there are educational initiatives and resources available, it’s not always openly discussed among students,” he said, adding that teachers and school staff made efforts to ensure menstrual hygiene.

Lyonpo Yeezang De Thapa said that for far too long, menstruation has been shrouded in myths and misconceptions, perpetuating stigma and discrimination. This made it difficult for women and girls to talk about their menstrual health openly and access the care and resources they needed. “We must break the silence to become a period-friendly society,” she said.

According to an official from the MoSD, all schools in Samtse Dzongkhag have changing rooms for girls.

Education plays a vital role in breaking down the barriers associated with menstruation. By incorporating menstrual health education into school curricula, children and young people can be made menstrual hygiene literate.

Menstrual Hygiene Day is celebrated every year on May 28. This year’s theme is “Together for a Period-friendly Bhutan.” This year marked the 10th anniversary of Bhutan joining the global community to mark the day.