Students of Wangbama Central School in Thimphu joined the rest of the schools across the country to observe menstrual hygiene day on May 28. (Photo: Sherab Tshering, VP, WCS)

Towards breaking menstrual taboo  

When schools observed menstrual hygiene day on May 28, inhibition and disposal facilities were some of the common challenges associated with maintaining menstrual hygiene.

Laya Central School’s health coordinator, Gyem Tshering, said that to encourage staff and students to break silence on menstruation, the school principal initiated donation to buy and store sanitary pads

“Donation is voluntary. However, with just about three shops in the locality, at times, the prices of sanitary pads are doubled here,” said Gyem Tshering.

He said that the school involved the matron and female teachers when girls have problems related to their period. “Health officials were here to talk about menstruation hygiene. It included the use of pads, when to change, future complications related to menstrual hygiene, and knowledge about psychological feelings when they first menstruate. They usually tend to panic.”

He said poor guidance and knowledge about menstruation were among other challenges facing girl students.

In Samtse’s Sang-Ngag Chhoeling Lower Secondary School (LSS), male teachers donated sanitary pads to support the initiative to break the silence on menstruation.

Health coordinator of the school, Leela Maya Sanyasi, said that there are stereotypes in some cultures where girls are isolated when they have period for the first time.

The school now has a changing room for girls.

“The room has solved most of the problems. Even for staff, there is only one toilet for both male and female,” said Leela Maya Sanyasi.

In addition to importance of menstrual hygiene, students were also made aware about puberty, unhealthy relationships, and teenage pregnancy.

Education ministry and Unicef’s knowledge, attitude, and practices (KAP) study on menstrual hygiene management found that about 59 percent of schoolgirls said it was important to talk about menstrual period with men.

Rangjung CS’s counsellor in Trashigang, Sonam Zangmo, said that a drama was staged personifying a sanitary pad in an effort to break silence related to menstruation at the school.

One of the health coordinators of Samtse LSS, Sarita Pradhan, said that the day included demonstration about how to use and dispose pads. “There was also a demonstration about how to use and make pads from cloths as some of the schoolgirls had problems using pads.”

The school also has a pad-making machine that the education ministry provided last year.

Sarita Pradhan said that as most parents were working, there was not much problem with regard to access to sanitary pads for students.

Disposal system, however, remains a challenge, she added. “As we also included boys during the advocacy on the psychological feelings and physical pain a girl endures during period, boys are familiar about it.”

According to KAP study, about 70 percent of schoolgirls said that men have advantage of not having monthly period. It also found that more than half the respondents only used water for cleaning sanitary materials.

Health coordinator of Trashiyangtse’s Shali Primary School, Tshering, said that the day was observed to break social stigma related to period. She said that availability of sanitary pads for girls was a challenge, especially in remote areas. “It will take time to change this perception in the community.”

KAP study found that menstruation has become a great taboo to the extent that adolescent schoolgirls are not comfortable buying sanitary pads in the open.

Rinchen Zangmo   

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