MHH from strength to strength in Bhutan

A portrait of Her Royal Highness Ashi Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck in traditional dress and wearing a mask

Congratulations to Water for Women partner SNV Bhutan for championing menstrual health and hygiene through their work on the Red Dot Bhutan campaign, which has contributed to inclusive systems strengthening. 

In celebration of Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May, Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering shared a message of support from the government to Red Dot Bhutan and pledged to scrap the 30% import duty on sanitary products, making them more accessible as essential items for girls and women in Bhutan.

Her Royal Highness Ashi Euphelma Choden Wangchuck, who became the Royal Patron of the Red Dot Bhutan Campaign this year, also shared a powerful message of support that called for renewed efforts to address challenges faced worldwide by girls and women who menstruate. 

"... The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated menstruation-related challenges women and girls face around the world and the need to address these challenges have become more urgent and pronounced. We have made good progress in ensuring access and availability of menstrual hygiene products and in destigmatizing the taboos around menstruation," Her Royal Highness Ashi Euphelma Choden Wangchuck wrote.

"However, much needs to be done.

Gender inequality, discriminatory social norms, cultural taboos, poverty, and lack of basic services often cause girls’ and women's menstrual health and hygiene needs to go unmet. These issues have far-reaching negative impacts on the lives of those who menstruate: restricting their mobility, freedom, and choices; affecting attendance and participation in school and community life; compromising their safety; and causing stress and anxiety.

We must understand and acknowledge that the onset of menstruation coincides with new opportunities – and vulnerabilities – that arise during adolescence. Menstrual health and hygiene interventions can be an entry point for other gender-transformative programmes during this period, such as sexual and reproductive health education and life skills development. By strengthening self-efficacy and negotiating ability, menstrual health, and hygiene programmes can help girls build the skills to overcome obstacles to their health, freedom and development, such as gender-based violence, child marriage and school dropout. Investments in adolescent girls’ well-being yield triple dividends: for those girls, for the women they will become, and for the next generation.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), are international human rights treaties that Bhutan is party to and are of particular relevance to menstrual health and hygiene. Understanding menstrual health and hygiene within this context requires a holistic approach to our women’s and girls’ wellbeing. The biological fact of menstruation, the necessity of managing menstruation, and a society’s response to menstruation is all linked with women’s and girls’ wellbeing and gender equality.

Women and girls’ access to menstrual health and hygiene is also central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The lack of basic knowledge about puberty and menstruation may contribute to early and unwanted pregnancy; the stress and shame associated with menstruation can negatively affect mental health; and unhygienic sanitation products may make girls susceptible to reproductive tract infections – all affecting SDG health outcomes.

Menstrual health and hygiene management is a national call to ensure the wellbeing of our girls and women. We need to sustain the progress made to date. We must ensure that the impacts of the on-going pandemic do not exacerbate menstruation-related challenges for our girls and women. We must ensure that our girls and women have access to a variety of menstrual products. We must ensure that all our menstrual facilities are inclusive.

I call on all to join the call and together, we must ensure that our girls and women are able to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in a dignified and healthy way."

The Red Dot campaign is a collaborative initiative supported by the Royal Government of Bhutan Ministries of Health and Education, SNV Bhutan and UNICEF. The campaign features a menstrual hygiene bracelet, which was launched in 2020. The Red Bracelet, or Red Dobchu, is a global symbol for menstruation. Each red bead in the bracelet represents empowerment, hope, love, care and solidarity. See how it has made a difference for girls in schools in Bhutan here.

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