From Sweden to Savannakhet #3: Interviews about menstruation


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Liyen Chin is doing an internship with SNV Laos for five months, as part of her Master's degree in International Development and Management at Lund University, Sweden. The 25 years old student has planned and performs research on Menstrual Hygiene Management in rural Savannakhet.

Another week has passed, and this week I did my fieldwork in a district called Phin. By now, I have become more accustomed to the visits to the villages. It should, however, be noted that no village is alike another. It is clearly noticeable that some villages are better off than others. As a habit, the first thing I now look for in a village, is whether there are any toilets around.

Not only because I might want to borrow it after the long and usually bumpy car ride, but it also tells me about the village's level of sanitation and the questions I might want to ask. Interviews can only give a limited amount of answers. The rest will have to be gathered by using all your other senses.

A ‘normal’ day out in the field nowadays looks more or less like this:

We travel early morning out to the village. A four-wheel drive is needed due to the poor road conditions. My translator, a representative from the provincial department, and one representative from the district accompany me on my trip. The district staff helps organizing my visit, alerts the village and also act as a guide, since there are usually no road signs directing you to the village. Once I have arrived, the women are mostly already gathered and waiting for me to start the interviews. Some or more shy than others. During some interviews, the women would joke and talk openly about their periods.

The younger girls however, are usually more shy; commenting less, giggling and hiding their face out of shyness. After the interview, everyone heads out to the rice fields or the forest to gather food for the day and are therefore unavailable for the rest of the day. Although the field visits are usually short in time, I have still managed to gather a lot of information. I am also grateful for the time the women have taken from their day to answer my questions. It also teaches you to be flexible with your work.

In their answers, it is noticeable that menstrual hygiene management touches upon several aspects of development. The right facilities need to be available as well as the knowledge. Many of the women do not have any toilets at their homes. When I asked them about how they then manage themselves when they need to relieve themselves, one of the women brought out a shovel and started to laugh. “You take this one and go out to the woods.” When I later asked another women to tell me what she knew about menstruation, she said: “It is menstruation, I don’t know anything more than that.” Some of the women would not wash their hair during their period. The reasons are many. Some think that it will prolong their period, some believe it would terminate it whereas other think that you will bleed more heavily. 

After every interview, I usually ask the women whether they have any questions for me; as an attempt to give something back, instead of just receiving. One dilemma out of this is, that the women would then ask me about menstruation and why their stomachs are aching during their period. Although I did learn all this in school, is it right for me to be teaching, when I am only there to gather information? One part of me thinks that it is the least I can do. Another thinks that I should let it be and leave it to someone more qualified. This is a challenge that I am still struggling with.