Despite certain challenges, the government’s commitment to make all schools in Bhutan period-friendly within five years to strengthen and improve menstrual health and hygiene management seems highly possible.

This should be attributed to the effort of the relevant authorities, organisations, development partners and the aggressive awareness carried over many years. Statistically, the commitment looks achievable because we are in a better condition. About 63 percent of schools in Bhutan have disposal mechanisms for menstrual hygiene waste, compared to the global average of 31 percent. Nearly 41 percent of schools have covered disposal bins for menstrual hygiene waste, and 46 percent have changing rooms for menstrual hygiene management.

This had already made Bhutan a period-friendly society in just over a decade or so. While sound policies ensured inclusive, affordable and accessible menstrual products and services for all, the awareness and the acceptance that menstruation is a biological condition has helped not only women, but men and the society, to change their perception.

Bhutan is not as bad as some of our neighbouring countries where strict social norms and the taboo attached to a natural occurrence denies girls and women the right to study, engage or even live normal lives. . 

The Red Dot Bhutan under the royal patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck should be credited for the awareness and advocacy it created for not only menstrual hygiene management, but driving the message that menstruation is a natural discharge like any other discharges from the body.

Bhutan can not only achieve to make the society period-friendly, we can make everyone accept menstruation just like the common flu we get occasionally. If awareness and advocacy programmes have made a difference, there is an important change happening.

If the myths and stigma associated with menstrual health and hygiene  was a challenge, we are seeing important changes happening. The biggest impact at Samtse during the Menstrual Hygiene Day celebration on Tuesday was the Samtse lam and the president of the Pandit Committee addressing the myths and stigma associated with menstruation within religious contexts. Like in many Asian societies, menstruation, unfortunately, is associated with a lot of things with women themselves believing that a woman on period should not enter a monastery. 

If cleanliness is what’s important, like the Khenpo said, this will be the most effective advocacy. Hopefully, it was not a prepared speech at the celebration. Our religious leaders,  khenpos and priests could be the most effective campaigners.

Meanwhile,  for many burdened with the monthly cycle, especially girl students, it is not the taboo or myth, but the basic facility at schools to make them comfortable. If we can improve school toilets, ensure facilities for privacy and clean water, many would not even find menstruation as an inconvenience.

Students do not complain of menstruation. They complain of lack of clean toilets, water and privacy. This is true even in private schools in the capital city. If we want to tell our girls that menstruation is natural, we need to provide basic and essential facilities for them to feel so.  Clean toilets is one.