Choki Wangmo & Chhimi Dema

Zooming in on the menstrual hygiene challenges among nuns, the Menstrual Hygiene Day was observed at Tshalumaphey resource and training centre for nuns in Thimphu yesterday.

At the helm of the menstrual hygiene challenges among the robed community, religious and cultural taboo such as considering bleeding as a curse and a disease that should be hidden has made the community vulnerable to infections and lack of hygiene thereof.

However, with intervention from Bhutan Nuns Foundation (BNF) since Bhutan observed the day in 2015, the nuns are being educated and trained on different aspects of menstrual literacy.

But what is applicable for women is not always the best fit for nuns given their context and way of life, said the executive director of BNF Tashi Zangmo (PhD).

Tashi Zangmo said that earlier on, providing sanitary pads in the nunneries was seen as a priority but there were problems in disposing of the used pads as most nunneries are located on high mountains considered sacred.

To address the challenge, sewing machines were distributed among nunneries to make reusable sanitary cloth pads using environmentally friendly local materials. The nuns were then educated on health, hygiene and dignity.

The health minister Dechen Wangmo launched an electric-incinerator which is expected to help safe and hygienic disposal of sanitary pads at the nunneries. Clean Bhutan and Bhutan National Bank donated it.

Lyonpo said that as menstruation is not a choice, sanitary pads were included in the essential commodities’ list during the pandemic upon the command of His Majesty The King. She also highlighted the critical roles the civil society organisations play in reaching out to the unreached.

BNF is exploring alternatives to maintain menstrual hygiene like introducing menstrual cup, keeping in mind the wellbeing and health of women.

This year the day is observed with a Red Bracelet, a global symbol for menstruation.

A study by the education ministry and UNICEF on knowledge, attitude and practices of menstrual hygiene management of adolescent schoolgirls and nuns in 2017 reported that 33.2 percent of nuns stated that women in menstruation are susceptible to get possessed by evil spirits.

More than half of the adolescent nuns reported that they missed class or activity during menstruation since there is no place to dispose of sanitary pads.

It was also found that more than 40 percent of nuns didn’t know at all about infections related to poor menstrual hygiene management. More than half of the nuns were unaware of the urinary tract infection.

Meanwhile, to mark the day, Education Minister J B Rai with officials from ministries of health and education, SNV Netherlands Development Organization, and UNICEF launched the booklet ‘A Knowledge book on Menstrual Health and Hygiene’.

The booklet underlines the biological and psychological occurrences of women during menstruation. The booklet is intended to augment knowledge about menstrual health and hygiene.

It is also expected to enable women to have a positive experience during menstruation and for the society to accept menstruation as a natural phenomenon.

The booklet is a result of the formative study carried out by Public Health Engineering Division, and SNV Netherlands Development Organization and the Knowledge Attitude and Practice (KAP) survey carried out by the School of Health and Nutrition Division, MoE and UNICEF.

As part of the event, education ministry with support from UNICEF included sanitary pads and soaps in the Take-Home Ration that was distributed to those impacted by Covid-19.

The Red Dot campaign by MoE to raise awareness on menstrual hygiene embodies a bracelet with five beads representing empowerment, dignity, hope, love and care, and solidarity.

“This year we are mainly stressing on the emotional and psychological aspects of menstruation. The bracelet is to encourage people to embrace menstruation and debunk stigmatization,” said Sr. Programme Officer Deki Tshering from School Health and Nutrition Division, MoE.

As an initiative to go beyond observing the day, UNICEF in collaboration with MoE organizes “School Health Coordinator Training” to advocate on safe water, sanitation and good hygiene practices in schools. WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) officer with UNICEF Sonam Gyaltshen said, “Along with MoE, we have supplied sanitary pads to 129 schools and 17 nunneries across the country last year.”