When “Mi Mi” (a pseudonym) prepared for anti-coup demonstrations in Yangon in late February, she carefully chose to wear a pair of jeans and sneakers so she could run from the abusive security forces. The last thing on her mind was to carry menstrual pads in case she was detained.
Myanmar’s police and military had begun to intensify crackdowns on protesters opposing the military’s February 1 power grab. As the security forces threw teargas onto the street and shot rubber bullets, she became disoriented, then trapped.
Seven male police officers beat and kicked her when she fell on the ground. “Once I was down, one of them kept me down while the others kicked me with their boots,” Mi Mi said. “Then they hauled me over to a police truck…One of them held my head back and another guy punched me very hard in the face.”
Mi Mi, 23, said the stress of the physical attack and arrest brought her menstrual period on early. Authorities eventually took her to Insein prison, the main detention facility, where she was held with more than 500 other women in facilities normally used for men. The women there had access to only two toilets with no water and no doors. Female prison guards repeatedly denied Mi Mi’s requests for sanitary pads until she bled heavily through her jeans. Finally, after 48 hours, they eventually gave her just one pad.
Mi Mi said the experience was humiliating and left her with trauma causing nightmares even after her release. She said the stigma in Myanmar about menstruation and degrading treatment of women made it difficult for her to speak more openly.
Female detainees have reported the “dehumanizing” experience of Myanmar prisons, explaining that they suffered during menstruation because prisons do not provide sanitary napkins. Since the coup, women have also reported sexual violence and other forms of gendered harassment and humiliation from police and military officials.
The lack of adequate toilets with running water and privacy, and insufficient menstrual hygiene supplies can constitute degrading treatment in violation of international human rights law. The Myanmar authorities should respect the right of women and girls to manage menstruation with dignity.