Despite the importance of menstrual hygiene management (MHM), too often it is a secret topic, rarely discussed by either men or women.
In the monastic institutions of Bhutan, these social norms and taboos surrounding menstruation combine with limited education, poor hygiene facilities and poor hygiene practices during menstruation to result in shame, embarrassment, social exclusion and health risks for many women and girls.
To share the message that ‘menstruation matters - to everyone and everywhere’, SNV joined with the Public Health Engineering Division of the Bhutanese Ministry of Health, the Bhutan Nuns Foundation and local health sector representatives to celebrate this year’s global Menstrual Hygiene Day with 160 Nuns at Pema Thekchog Chholing Nunnery in Bumthang. The event aimed to build awareness amongst the monastic community and build popular support for MHM, to help ensure all women and girls in Bhutan are able to manage their menstruation hygienically, with privacy and dignity.
Tshering Lham, a nun from Pema Thekchog Chholing said that the annual health talks and the life skills training programme now on offer at the nunnery had helped the community to understand the importance of menstrual hygiene management. However, she said social norms around menstruation were still a barrier, especially when it came to broaching the topic of menstrual hygiene with the male head teachers.
“Firstly it is considered disrespectful to even mention menstruation to the male head teacher and secondly, even if we did so, it would be difficult for them to understand the issues, including the physical pain,” she said.
To help break the silence around menstruation and help both men and women better understand the issues involved, health officials joined the celebration on May 28 to give presentations and screen video clips on menstrual hygiene management and related challenges, such as the impact of poor menstrual hygiene on health and the importance of safe sanitary pad disposal. A group debate on the topic was also organised to make the day interactive.
To address the issue of access to sanitary pads in the nunnery and to provide an alternative solution to commercial sanitary pads, reusable sanitary pads were introduced to participants, with the commitment of the Bhutan Nuns Foundation to provide training in sewing reusable pads at Pema Thekchog Chholing.
As the day concluded with prayers and pledges in solidarity to address menstruation issues openly, Tshering Lham said that the global celebration of Menstrual Hygiene Day was vital, as it helped to build awareness on MHM, built support amongst male teachers, and encouraged both men and women to address this often-taboo subject so that Bhutanese girls and women could manage their menstruation hygienically and with dignity.