Managing menstruation with dignity

How advocacy in schools help destigmatize menstruation

Dawa Zam
UNICEF Bhutan/2022/SPelden
20 April 2022

Zilukha, Thimphu: For adolescents girl students of Zilukha Middle Secondary School in Thimphu, menstruation does not stop them from attending school or participating in other school activities.

A supportive environment, accessible WASH facilities including regular water supply and changing rooms, and easy access to sanitary supplies have assured the girl students to be comfortable with their menstruation process and not skip school fearing shame or stigma.

“We now have more people including our boy classmates who support us and understand menstruation,” says a grade 10 student, Dawa Zam, 17. “In case we run out of sanitary products, they help us buy sanitary pads from the nearby shop.”

“Sometimes, we request our friends to collect the sanitary napkins from the school health coordinator,” adds her friend and classmate, Dechen Yangzom, 17.

With sanitary supplies easily accessible in school and classmates and teachers understanding on their need to visit the toilet, the students say that they do not feel uncomfortable attending classes during menstruation. “The changing rooms give us privacy and the comfort to manage and maintain menstrual hygiene in the school,” says Chimi Chogyal, 16, another grade 10 student.

adolescents girl students of Zilukha Middle Secondary School
UNICEF Bhutan/2022/SPelden
A supportive environment with easy access to WASH facilities and menstrual hygiene products has helped girl students manage menstruation safely in schools.

Having studied at the school since pre-primary or since the onset of their puberty, the students recall the situation being different then. “We didn’t have sanitary napkin changing rooms then and we were hesitant to sit in class fearing that our classmates would tease us for the stain or smell,” says a grade nine student, Pema Yangden, 18.

However, this is no more the situation today the students say. Save for occasional menstrual cramps, they say they do not find menstruation discomforting or something to be ashamed of. They credit regular advocacy on breaking the stigma around menstruation by the school health coordinator for the support girl students receive.

“Today, we have easy access to sanitary products, sanitation facilities and a supportive environment in schools to manage menstruation safely and maintain hygiene,” says Pema. “These factors help us focus on our learning and participate actively in all school activities.”

Changing rooms in a school’s WASH facilities
UNICEF Bhutan/2022/SPelden
Changing rooms are now part of a school’s WASH facilities.

School health coordinator Yangchen Dema said advocacy around menstruation hygiene picked pace after schools started observing the global Menstrual Hygiene Day annually on May 28. She said that the series of programmes and activities that were held in the school to mark the Day has led to increased awareness on menstrual hygiene management (MHM).

“Earlier, education on MHM was provided only to girl students but gradually, the programme included boy students and then the whole school,” says Yangchen Dema who has been the school’s health coordinator since 2013. “We also started seeing sanitary products being donated, which helped normalize the conversation around menstruation.”

The redesigning of toilet facilities in schools to include changing rooms for girls, she says, was another reason why students feel comfortable to attend school during menstruation. “We have health captains and a health committee who also help me with advocacy in the school,” she said. “And senior students also support us in conducting educational activities.”

In preparation for the school reopening and to ensure easy access to a variety of sanitary products for effective management of menstrual hygiene, UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Education distributed 2,000 menstrual cups, 17,000 reusable sanitary pads, 500 sanitary tampons and 5,500 disposable sanitary pads to 139 schools across the country.

The generous funding from donors enabled UNICEF Bhutan and the Ministry of Education to distribute menstrual hygiene supplies to safeguard the health and well-being of 2,700 adolescent girls as well as support their learning without having to experience stress, shame, or unnecessary barriers.  

School Health Coordinator Yangchen Dema explains about tampons
UNICEF Bhutan/2022/SPelden
School Health Coordinator Yangchen Dema explains about tampons, an alternative to disposable napkins to the students.

The students, who have been introduced to reusable sanitary products such as menstrual cups, reusable sanitary pads and tampons as an alternative to disposable sanitary napkins are grateful for having a diverse range of menstrual hygiene supplies in their school.

"We are excited to use the reusable sanitary products as it would help us save money,” says Dechen. “And we are happy to have the support of everyone – in the school as well as at home, around menstruation,” adds her classmate Dawa.

Students with reusable sanitary napkins
UNICEF Bhutan/2022/SPelden
Students with reusable sanitary napkins the school received from UNICEF and the Ministry of Education.