Lhamo Tso’s Speech: After Watching “PadMan”, Let’s See the Tibetan version

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a speech on women’s health and hygiene given by Tibetan educator from Amdo, Lhamo Tso. The speech was circulated via WeChat by the Snowland Youth Magazine channel on October 27, 2020. The title of the piece refers to “PadMan”, the film based on the real life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, an Indian man who worked to make affordable sanitary pads for women.

For those who might have missed it, take a look at an older post, also translated from the Snowland Youth Magazine WeChat channel, that profiled nine Tibetan women entrepreneurs.

“Lhamo Tso’s Speech: After Watching “PadMan”, Let’s See the Tibetan version”

Snowland Youth Magazine, October 27, 2020

  • Lhamo Tso is from Xunhua Salazu County in Tsonub Prefecture.
  • She gained her undergraduate degree in Tibetan and English from Qinghai Normal University.
  • She gained her Masters in Development Studies from Emory University.
  • She has 15 years of experience working for various NGOs relating to environmental protection, female education, cultural communication and community development, but has also faced up to many challenges relating to fundraising and the sustainability of local development projects.
  • In 2017, she founded Conscious Impact, an independent company with a social mission. Its main business areas include tourism and educational consulting, ticketing, design and the development of female health products at reasonable prices.

Hello everyone, my name is Lhamo Tso.

The topic of today’s event is “fighting against domestic violence.” All social problems are multifaceted and originate from many factors. Just as Sonam Dorje said, domestic violence is related to education. But it is also closely related to women’s status, women’s rights, and the general family atmosphere. What I would like to share with you today is the prevention of women’s diseases. It is not enough to understand about prevention. Examination and treatment also require the support of family members and the understanding of the husband.

In the past, when we conducted surveys at the grassroots level, we found that the biggest difficulty for women to see a doctor was travel and transportation. The distance would be too long and traffic inconvenient. Women themselves cannot go out alone for medical treatment, and local medical conditions are limited. These many reasons lead to the failure of timely and effective treatment of women’s gynaecological conditions.

Tibetan version of the female health handbook

The second aspect we found was health education. Although there are many handbooks on women’s health in Tibetan, most women are still illiterate or semi-illiterate, and disease prevention knowledge is not widely popularized and practiced. There is a gap between women’s health and health education.

Then there are economic conditions. Women suffering from gynaecological diseases cannot seek medical treatment without financial support from their families. Here, especially daughters-in-law who have married out face financial problems. We have observed much confusion among married women in our village.  

According to a report by UNESCO, 85% of women in the world suffer from gynaecological diseases to various degrees, of which 63% are caused by delayed attention to menstruation and due to inadequate hygienic conditions. 63% is already very high. But since this proportion is related to menstrual hygiene, we should attach great importance to our own hygiene and health. If we can successfully prevent and improve 63% of women’s hygiene and health problems, it would be a good start and also lead to some very good results.

Next, I would like to say a few words about women’s menstrual health. The focus is on prevention. The main solution is to focus on personal hygiene. When we buy underwear, we must choose a light-coloured one. Regardless of personal conditions, we must always possess a number of pieces of underwear that should be changed and washed at least three times per week. Underwear should be disinfected in salt water and dried in a sunny place. In view of your own health, these are not things to be ashamed of. Drying clothes in the sun can have a disinfecting function and prevent infections, itching or other menstrual disorders and risks.

When cleaning underwear, you should choose special washing equipment to avoid cross-infection, and buy special wiping towels. These are all preventive stages. If you don’t care about your health and your personal hygiene, when you find yourself suffering from gynaecological symptoms and go to the hospital, language and transportation are obstacles to seeking medical treatment. Both financial and human resources are troublesome, so good personal hygiene is absolutely crucial.

In addition, there is another problem of women using unhygienic sanitary pads, which cause diseases. This problem is particularly prominent in Asia. According to my research, small shops often sell low-quality pads; so we can’t blindly trust a certain brand, because there are many cases of pirating well-known brands to produce fakes in the market. Once used, such fakes are likely to cause symptoms of infection or itching.

When I was studying in the US, I participated in a charity group about women’s health. Through investigation and research, we identified two key preventative measures: first, to use self-made cloth sanitary pads, which are highly absorbent, prevent leakage and can also be repeatedly washed and used. In the US, there is an organization called A Day For Girls. Most of its members are elderly retired women. They make these sanitary pads and distribute them to women in poor areas. I managed to get hold of a batch and distributed them to some women in Xunhua Autonomous County, but this is not a long-term solution, because in the end, a localized, sustainable model is needed to solve women’s health problems.

Local women instruct how to correctly use “tampons” (and only give them out once everyone has understood)

Therefore, I found a few women in our village, provided them with some simple equipment to produce and distribute cloth sanitary pads. These kinds of sanitary pads need to also be disinfected and air-dried. They cannot be placed under cotton mattresses, where they would easily breed bacteria, which would then cause cross infection and produce the opposite of the desired effect. I often don’t dare to encourage local women to actually make and even use these kinds of sanitary pads themselves, because they have relatively high hygiene requirements and I am worried that the local women will not meet the corresponding standards. If you want to try to make this kind of sanitary towel yourself, you must choose a good fabric, made from at least 90% cotton. Never use inferior fabrics or other materials, because these may cause severe gynaecological diseases.

Imported “tampons”

The second method is the so-called “menstrual cup” that foreigners like to use. They are a little bit expensive, but currently the safest method. One pack contains two cups and they can be safely used for more than 20 years. If menstruation is particularly heavy, the larger size can be used. A cup should be changed in the morning and in the evening. But these cups are mainly suitable for places with running water (they require a relatively large quantity of water for cleansing). Many European women use this method. In Europe, there are sometimes buy-one-get-one-free promotions, sold for the equivalent of about 160 Yuan. After three months of use, they need to be disinfected with boiling water. This is the safest and most practical method during menstruation and, compared to disposal one-time sanitary pads, the cups are more durable and affordable.

Menstrual cup

As the Secretary of the Township Committee said, the foundation of promoting national unity is family harmony, and promoting family harmony requires attention to women’s health. Regardless of the family’s economic conditions, women’s health should be given top priority. In addition to women’s diseases, the biggest problem with women’s health lies in some very outdated ideas, which have caused many tragedies.

These traditional ideas have produced many prejudices against women’s health issues. So changing these old ideas is key. Women’s menstruation is a most basic physiological need, and gynaecological diseases are very common. These are not shameful things, they should not be stigmatised. 85% of women in the world suffer from various degrees of gynaecological diseases. As women, we should understand and help each other. 

But of course, I believe that preventing gynaecological diseases is also greatly related to men. As the head of the family, men shoulder family responsibilities and women’s happiness. Therefore, women’s health problems cannot be separated from men’s support and understanding. I hope that early detection and timely treatment can bring about new breakthroughs concerning women’s health.

This is all I want to say for today. Thank you everyone for your attention!

Lhamo Tso: Helping the sanitary towel business in Tibet

 

This post is also available in: English

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