From Sweden to Savannakhet #1: Working on women’s health

From Sweden to Savannakhet #1: Working on women’s health

Liyen Chin is doing an internship with SNV Laos for five months, as part of her Master's degree in International Development and Management at Lund University, Sweden. The 25 years old student has planned and performs research on Menstrual Hygiene Management in rural Savannakhet.

At the time of writing this, I have just held a workshop on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in Savannakhet province. Roughly one year ago, when I started my Master's degree in International Development and Management at Lund University, Sweden, I never thought that I would be where I am today and talking about menstruation. As part of my studies, I get to perform a 20 weeks long internship in a developing country; to put my theoretical knowledge into practice and collect material for my master thesis.

Having a great interest in gender as well as water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), I chose to study MHM, which caught the interest of the WASH team in SNV Laos. In addition to my academic assignments and daily work at the office, I have also been given the responsibility to plan and perform research on MHM - a subject relatively unexplored in Laos.

In developing countries, the conditions for rural women to manage themselves during menstruation are generally poor. Their lack of access to improved toilets, clean water, soap, and menstrual pads restricts them from properly cleaning themselves. This lack of basic services, together with the shame and embarrassment women feel towards menstruation, compels them to not attend school during their menstruation.

Cultural beliefs, such as not being able to stay in one’s own home during menstruation since menstruating women are considered 'dirty', has also been found to restrict women from living a dignified life. In Laos, some women are found using old skirts (sinhs) as menstrual pads whereas some do not use anything at all.

Moreover, menstruation is a subject that one does not talk about loudly. The aim of my fieldwork will therefore be to find out what factors that affect the women's practice of MHM and how they can be explained.

In total, I will spend almost one month in the field gathering data through interviews with the women and girls out in the villages as well as with teachers and midwives. The journey out to the field has however not been easy. Although my academic background and theoretical preparations has helped me to plan, I have realized that in reality, things usually do not go according to your plans.

The circumstances out in the field are constantly changing, which is in a way, the charm of doing fieldwork; you never know what you will experience or find. Next week marks the beginning of this unpredictable journey where our team will be heading to three districts; Atsaphon, Phin and Xonnabouri.