Neten Dorji |  Kanglung 

Dawa Yangki, 25, learned she was having her first period when a relative saw stains on her cloths. Menstruation had never been described to her before. She didn’t comprehend why she was bleeding and in pain because she was just ten years old and blind. Fortunately, she was at home at the time.

“I had no idea what menstruation was, why I felt pain, or how to use a sanitary pad,” she said.

One day, her mother explained that periods were normal and supported her by providing pads, teaching her how to use them, and checking on her daily.

Like Dawa Yangki, many women and girls with disabilities face challenges in managing their monthly periods. Furthermore, they often lack education and understanding about the importance of menstrual hygiene until they enroll in institutes.

Students in Muenseling Institute in Khaling and Draktsho Centre say that they do not face problems managing their periods while at school but struggle when they are at home.

“Sometimes, I can’t even afford to change sanitary pads in a day. I have to use the same pad for as long as it can hold,” says Dawa Yangki. “And when I don’t have sanitary pads, I have no choice but to use cloths.”

Women and girls with disabilities are at a higher risk of infections, stigma, discrimination, ignorance, and a lack of social support during menstruation. 

Tshering Yangden, a student of Muenseling Institute, Khaling in Trashigang said that most of the time they fear getting blood stains on their dresses.

“I don’t feel confident walking around or being near male friends when I’m menstruating,” she said. “I’m worried people may notice an odour, so I constantly ask my female friends to check for blood stains.”

Tshering emphasised the need for affordable high-quality pads. She also highlighted the necessity of adaptive toilets and safe rooms that they can independently and safely use while menstruating.

Girls with visual impairments need accessible information and education about menstrual health and hygiene. Being visually impaired, they often struggle to figure out if they have used the pad properly. 

Girls with disabilities face different challenges. Girls and women with disabilities  struggle to position their sanitary napkins correctly and wash themselves and their cloths.

Nima Dema, a Draktsho East student, stated that finding affordable menstrual pads is one of the most difficult issues for people with disabilities.

“I use a wheelchair, and I sit most of the time. When I’m menstruating, it’s difficult because I stain my clothes, resulting in blood spots on my cloths,” said Nima. “Although I get free sanitary pads from the institute, I often rely on cloths while at home.” 

Many students mentioned a desire for high-quality sanitary pads, soap, and access to clean water during menstruation. Schools and institutes are working hard to guarantee that they have enough sanitary pads, clean water, and safe disposal places.

“Sanitary pads and tampons are expensive for many families, especially considering that some girls with disabilities require more expensive and higher-quality products to manage their periods effectively,” said one of the caregivers.

The institute has a separate room where students can change their pads.

Menstruation management is significantly more difficult for adolescents with intellectual disability. 

Kezang Dema, a pre-vocational teacher and a matron at Draktsho East, said that their students take longer to learn the skills required for menstrual management.

“They need constant guidance from us, and today, most of the girls here know how to use pads and understand the importance of hygiene,” said Kezang Dema.

The biggest challenge at Draktsho East, according to Principal Karma Garab Dorji, is the lack of disposal sites.

“Due to budget constraints, we couldn’t purchase an automatic Sanitary Napkin Incinerator,” he said, adding that the institute maintains menstruation record of every student for prompt and easy intervention. 

Closing the Gaps

Menstrual hygiene management remains a topic of  taboo for many girls, especially those with disabilities.

The majority of the students who spoke with Kuensel said that sustaining menstruation health, hygiene, and routines is difficult, particularly in villages and public settings.

“It is a huge struggle for people like us, and it requires a lot of mental and physical support,” said one student.

Dorji Yueduen, a student of Jigme Sherubling Central School, emphasised the importance of awareness and education on menstrual hygiene management.

“We need to reduce the stigma surrounding periods so that women and girls with disabilities feel comfortable discussing the challenges we face in managing our menstrual health,” the 20-year-old said. “This way, people with disabilities can ensure more inclusive menstrual health strategies that consider our needs.” 

Photo: Dratsho East

As part of advocating Equity for Red Hygiene, Kuensel will publish a series of stories on Menstrual Health Management in partnership with MoESD and partners.