Red Dot Bhutan and partners construct eight inclusive WASH facilities
UNICEF and partners are supporting the Ministry of Education and Skills Development to construct inclusive toilets with provisions to address MHM for girls with disabilities.
Joint Press Release
Punakha, May 26 2023: Delivering on its commitment to address the menstrual management needs of girls and women with disabilities in schools and institutions, Red Dot Bhutan marked the Menstrual Hygiene Day this year with the inauguration of an inclusive toilet at Khuruthang Middle Secondary School in Punakha.
Khuruthang Middle Secondary School is among the eight Special Education Needs (SEN) schools across Bhutan that has constructed toilets that are designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities. The remaining seven SEN schools are in Gelephu, Lhuentse, Thimphu, Tsirang, Trashiyangtse, Samtse and Zhemgang.
Themed Equity for Red Hygiene – making menstruation a normal fact of life, the observation of Menstrual Hygiene Day this year focused on addressing the barriers of menstrual hygiene for girls and women with disabilities. The observation marks a significant move for Red Dot Bhutan towards engaging communities in the local government to be champions for inclusive WASH facilities and services.
In a statement released to mark the Day, the Patron of Red Dot Bhutan Her Royal Highness, Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck said that while Bhutan has made commendable progress in enhancing sanitation in schools and monastic institutions, it is imperative that we push further and make these facilities accessible to disabled girls and women.
“I have a profound understanding of the vulnerabilities that menstruation entails during adolescence. Gender inequality, social norms, taboos, poverty, and lack of services hinder menstrual health. The plight of women with disabilities, who face the dual burden of societal stigma surrounding both their gender and disability, touches me profoundly. On Menstrual Hygiene Day, I urge the government, partners, and individuals to prioritize inclusiveness in planning and infrastructure. Let's prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable, ensuring inclusive WASH services for menstrual hygiene in Bhutan's present and future.”
Girls and women with disabilities, face a double stigma due to both social norms around gender and menstruation and having a disability, which makes it more challenging in managing their menstruation hygienically and with dignity.
The Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2017 reported that about 2.1 per cent of the country’s total population is living with disabilities, which corresponds to 15,567 persons (8,111 females and 7,456 males). The prevalence of disabilities in monastic institutions stands at 2.5 per cent (3 per cent in nunneries) with limited mobility found to prevail at 0.5 per cent, limited vision at 0.3 per cent and other disabilities at 1.7 per cent. In schools, there are about 926 students with disabilities (545 boys and 381 girls) enrolled in 32 schools with Special Education Needs (SEN) Programme.
As of 2022, improved sanitation coverage stands at 97 per cent in schools, 89 per cent in monastic institutions and 99 per cent in healthcare facilities. While access to improved sanitation has increased in those institutions over the years, there is much to be done to make these facilities accessible for girls and women with disabilities. Today, only 17 per cent of monastic institutions, 19 per cent of SEN schools and 31 per cent of healthcare facilities toilets are appropriate for persons with mobility/vision disability.
Red Dot Bhutan’s focus on addressing the menstrual hygiene needs of girls and women with disabilities this year highlights their challenges in accessing WASH facilities in communities, schools, health-care facilities, monastic institutions and public places.
As part of the menstrual hygiene day observation at Punakha, Bhutan Toilet Organization and partners released the “menstrual hygiene friendly tag,” which will be placed on the doors of inclusive toilets that meet the four requirements of regular water supply, ensures privacy, has disposal bins for menstrual waste, and has access to sanitary napkins.
Bhutan Toilet Organization’s Executive Director Passang Tshering also shared an initiative of a mobile ramp that could be used to access toilets during public events so that people with disabilities can attend events with their families.
Punakha Dzongdag Thuje Tshering said the inauguration of an inclusive toilet at Khuruthang Middle Secondary School is an auspicious start towards making Punakha an inclusive and disabled friendly district.
“The closer we come to the communities, the more complex, diverse and real becomes the issue of disabilities and menstrual hygiene management. For it is in the homes, schools and institutions in the communities that the people experience the challenges of managing menstruation especially when one has a disability,” the dzongdag said. “We hope the inclusive WASH facilities at Khuruthang Middle Secondary school will be model for other schools and institutions and inspire other districts across the country to ensure our plans and polices are inclusive of the needs of children and people with disabilities.”
Punakha has 85 students with disabilities, of which 25 are female.
SNV Representative to Bhutan, Kencho Wangdi said a menstrual hygiene management assessment for woman and girls with disabilities conducted by Public Health Engineering Division, Ministry of Health and SNV found that access to water and toilet including sanitary products is a major concern for rural women and girls with disabilities.
“SNV remains committed to support the Royal Government of Bhutan and partners in addressing the menstrual hygiene needs of girls and women with disabilities, especially in rural Bhutan,” Kencho Wangdi said.
UNICEF Bhutan Representative Andrea Pauline James, on behalf of development partners and CSOs, commended the strides the Royal Government of Bhutan has made to ensure that menstrual hygiene products and facilities are accessible to women and adolescent girls including those disabilities.
“The ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in the upcoming session of the Parliament, is a significant milestone for all of us to make our societies, schools, health care facilities and public facilities and infrastructure accessible and inclusive,” Andrea Pauline James said. “UNICEF and partners believe that an inclusive society is an investment in our children – our hope, our future. For together, we can nurture and build a future where menstruation is no longer a source of exclusion or discrimination, but a natural celebrated process in the lives of every girl and women.”
UNICEF has also supported the Central Monastic Body to construct six inclusive toilets in monastic schools including nunneries in Chukha, Mongar, Paro and Trongsa.
During the event, Red Dot Bhutan also distributed menstrual hygiene kits to students with disabilities and labeled Khuruthang Middle Secondary School’s inclusive toilet as the first menstrual hygiene friendly toilet in the country.
Under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck, the Red Dot Bhutan is an advocacy platform to raise awareness on Menstrual Hygiene Management and destigmatize menstruation. It is led by the Ministry of Education and Skills Development in partnership with the Ministry of Health, the Dratshang Lhentshog, Bhutan Nuns Foundation, RENEW, SNV, BTO and UNICEF.
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