Towards a PeriodFriendlyWorld: Breaking Menstrual Taboos in Nepal

Published: May 28, 2024 Reading time: 4 minutes
Archana Chaudhary, 30 year old, life skill facilitator who attended Menstrual Hygiene Management training conducted by PIN under UKAID supported Aarambha project. She learnt to make reusable sanitary pads, gained knowledge on menstrual hygiene. After the training, she shares the knowledge with the adolescent girls the project works with.
© Photo: Nitin Naren Singh

Every year on May 28th, Menstrual Hygiene Day serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of menstrual health and hygiene. This year's theme, "Together for a #PeriodFriendlyWorld," underscores the collective effort required to dismantle the deeply entrenched stigma and taboos surrounding menstruation.

For many women and girls in Nepal, particularly in remote areas, menstruation remains shrouded in cultural and religious taboos. It is a natural physiological process, yet it often results in the exclusion of women from daily and community activities. In Nepal, an overwhelming nine out of ten women and girls report facing restrictions during their menstrual periods. Restrictions can range from being barred from entering prayer rooms, temples, and kitchens to avoiding contact with male family members, sleeping separately, and missing school (Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management in Nepal-Population Services International Nepal, 2017 Report).

To address the challenges posed by the stigma and taboos around menstruation, we are dedicating efforts to improving Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). Our efforts aim to ensure that menstrual health is integrated into all aspects of our work.

We have taken significant steps to support our female staff by setting up period-friendly toilets. These facilities are equipped with essential menstrual hygiene products such as sanitary pads, tampons, liners, pain relief patches, and extra underwear/trousers in case of need. Recognising the varying intensities of period cramps and other discomforts associated with menstruation, we also provide the flexibility for women to work from home during their periods. This initiative underscores our commitment to MHM and demonstrates our sensitivity towards the needs of women, promoting both immediate comfort and long-term gender equality and empowerment.

During emergency responses, we ensure that dignity kits contain menstrual products such as sanitary pads and clean clothes. These are distributed alongside food and other essential items. Our approach acknowledges that menstruation continues unabated, even in crises, and these kits help maintain dignity and hygiene.

We arrived in Nepal following the tragic earthquake of 2015. We launched "Her Safety," a protection programme for women. The main objective of this initiative was to support girls and women living in camps to stay safe and healthy. During the Her Safety training, participants, both men and women, were taught about sexual and reproductive health. They learned how to make sanitary pads and about menstrual hygiene. One of the participants, Bir Singh Tamang, said, "I had never known how a sanitary pad is used. Making one was beyond my imagination. We do not talk openly about menstruation in our home. But now, here I am, able to make a sanitary pad by myself. I realised it is all about interest and willingness to move forward. If I had been shy and uninterested, I would have never learned to make this."

Under our River+ project, period-friendly WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) facilities will be installed in recycling centres in the Kathmandu Valley. These centres employ a significant number of women sanitation workers, and the new facilities are equipped with necessary menstrual hygiene supplies. Additionally, through the Her Safety intervention, sanitation workers will receive training on sexual and reproductive health. By providing sanitary pads during river clean-up events, the project ensures that menstrual hygiene needs are not overlooked. The River+ project champions gender-responsive values throughout its activities.

In collaboration with Godawari Municipality, the A2015 Urban Resilience project has established a sanitary napkin manufacturing unit. A comprehensive four-day training program educated 20 women on menstrual hygiene, breaking taboos, and the production, packaging, and pricing of sanitary napkins. This initiative empowers women and promotes the local production of affordable menstrual products.

The five-year project, Aarambha-Leaving No Girl Behind, further amplifies our impact. Under this project, 119 trainers, including Community Learning Center (CLC) facilitators, teachers, and social mobilisers, were trained to make sanitary pads from clean, soft reusable cloths. This training reached 2,775 CLC girls and more than 2,000 schoolgirls. Sessions on menstrual hygiene were incorporated into Gender Transformative Workshops, benefiting 8,751 adolescents. Additionally, the project delivered comprehensive education on sexual and reproductive health rights and MHM to 9,794 girls in CLCs through life skills sessions. By appointing gender focal-persons and distributing sanitary pads in schools, more than 18,000 students have benefited from improved menstrual health education and resources.

As we observe Menstrual Hygiene Day 2024, our collective efforts remind us of the strides being made toward a Period Friendly World. By ensuring access to menstrual products, education, and infrastructure, and by addressing cultural norms, we can significantly enhance the lives of women and girls in Nepal and beyond. Together, we can break the cycle of stigma and build a world where menstruation is embraced with dignity and understanding.

Autor: Nirmala KC, Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) and Protection Coordinator

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