The findings of a recent study on menstrual hygiene management of adolescent schoolgirls and nuns are worrying.
Our girls and nuns are skipping school from one to four days. The rate of absenteeism of about 50 percent together for the adolescents is as discomforting as the factors contributing to it.
Discussing menstruation remains a taboo with almost 56 percent believing that it is important to buy sanitary pads without being seen by others. Religious taboo has led nuns to believe that menstruation is a curse of god and that they should not enter shrines during their menstruation cycle.
The run up to the menstrual hygiene management day saw many Bhutanese, including policymakers, politicians and public figures joining the movement to break the silence and shame about menstruation.
Funds were collected to buy and distribute sanitary napkins in schools to observe menstrual hygiene management day on May 28.
But the movement doesn’t stop and should not end with the sporting of red ribbons on the arm or with the observation of the day. The study has shown that menstruation is still perceived as a personal issue and the efforts to break the silence has to be sustained.
Menstrual hygiene management is no more a personal issue confined to the girls and her family.
It is an institutional responsibility, which means it is about targeting pre-pubescent girls as a priority population for public health attention. It is about reframing the societal construct and broadening the issue on sexual and reproductive health risks. It is about our children and their right to access sanitation facilities so that they don’t feel dirty and cursed during menstruation.
The solidarity that our policymakers including the prime minister has shown towards menstrual hygiene management must translate into polices and actions. If we take pride on high enrolment of girl students in schools, we must be troubled that the girl to toilet ratio today stands at 66:1. Our schools do not meet the national standard of 1 toilet compartment for every 25 girls. The recent study found that about 25 percent of girls cited lack of facilities and 21 percent said there was nowhere to dispose of used sanitary pads in schools. For a section of girls, even access to sanitary napkin is a problem.
That a majority of adolescents said that they were unaware of the reproductive tract infection related to poor menstrual hygiene is worrying; our children are still not informed about menstrual hygiene and associated risks. Efforts of school health coordinators and authorities should be supplemented with proper WASH facilities. It is important that the education ministry and the nunneries worked together to educate the students in breaking the taboos.
In issues such as this, our efforts have to be collective and sustained.