Sonam Choden, now 20, was scared when she got her first periods at the age of 14. She asked her mother about it but she was far from forthcoming. Now, she is comfortable with the monthly event that occurs in her body but she feels that menstruation is still a taboo in Bhutan and menstruating women are stigmatized especially in the rural backwaters.
“We need to create awareness among young girls who could be caught unawares by biology,” she said.
Towards this end, founder of VAST Yangtse, Jigme Dorji and a group of teachers from Trashiyangtse Lower Secondary School have come together and launched an initiative called Pa Nyam Kay gay to empower every school girl and rural woman by providing them access to sanitary napkins.
The project was launched on June 4, coinciding with Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen’s birthday whereby 240 sanitary napkins along with disposal buckets were collected from donors and distributed to 10 remote schools across the dzongkhag.
The project was started with a mission to create awareness on the importance of menstrual hygiene management, reduce social stigma attached to menstruation, provide free sanitary napkins and promote women’s empowerment through various talks and awareness programs.
Jigme Dorji said that sanitary napkins are an essential for women’s personal hygiene but many rural girls and women cannot afford to buy them while some are not even aware that they exist.“They use unhygienic cloth pieces which lead to several reproductive issues and other diseases.”
According to Jigme Dorji, the response from the community has been good. “After the first distribution of napkins and disposal buckets, we have saved Nu 10,000 in the bank as seed money.”
Meanwhile, he added that to sustain the project, registration fees from the members will be collected and funds will be raised from donors. The donors comprise project members, businessmen and employees of the Kholongchhu hydroelectric project. Sanitary napkins will also come from the donors.
Further, plans to purchase sanitary napkin processing and disposal machines are in the pipeline while also expanding and collaborating with other relevant national and international NGOs.
“We also plan to adopt reusable cloth napkins for school girls and women and to open a training center for developing women’s skills,” said Jigme Dorji.
Jigme Wangchen from Trashiyangtse