The well-intended pilot project to provide cheap quality pads for girl students has hit some serious hurdles.
Of the nine schools that received the pad-making machines in 2017, three have stopped producing the pads for various reasons.
The other schools are still producing the pads despite the challenges, school authorities said.
The machine was distributed to nine schools in the country. Central schools that received the machines were Kamji, Nangkor, Zhemgang, Damphu, Rangjung, Orong and Daga Central Schools (CS). Mongar Higher Secondary School and Samtse Lower Secondary School were provided with the machines.
One of the major problems, according to the schools, is the unavailability of raw materials. Kamji CS Principal Pema Rinchen said that the school used the machine for the last three years. However, the lack of raw materials reduced the rate of production and the frequent breakdown of the machine eventually stopped production.
“Some materials like the plastic used in the pad are not found locally,” he said.
During the peak of production, the school sold 500 pads to Chukha and Pashika central schools at a nominal price of Nu 2 a pad.
Daga CS Principal Tshering said that they had to stop the production since some of the girls complained that they were developing rashes after using the pads.
Although girls in Nangkhor CS in Pemagatshel were facing a similar problem, the school distributed pads to 100 girls out of a total of 260 girls in the school.
A student from Trashigang said that the pad made from the machine was very uncomfortable compared to the ones they bought from the market. Although the pad is uncomfortable, they sometimes use it when they cannot afford to buy the ones sold in the market.
School teachers said that if these issues were fixed then the project would be able to make a bigger impact.
After receiving feedback from the students, some of the schools improvised to make user-friendly pads so that the students don’t have to spend large amounts every month.
WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) officer Deki Tshering from School Health and Nutrition Division (SHND), Ministry of Education said, “It is a matter of choice. Sanitary pads available in the market were comfortable to use.”
Another challenge that hampers the production was the lack of expertise on the machine. The SHND received reports from schools that the machine heated quickly. It was also reported that the pads were uncomfortable during rainy days as they would not stick as needed.
The machines are operated by a group of students and the initial agreement was that the schools would also supply the pads to nearby schools.
The pilot project to make sanitary pads was initiated in 2017 by the education ministry to enable school-going girls to have safe and easy access to sanitary pads. The machines were donated by Empathy Foundation from India.
Another initiative by education ministry is the distribution of free sanitary pads to remote schools and nunneries in the country funded by UNICEF.