Often spoken in hushed tones, menstruation in Nepal is still a taboo subject – coming to the forefront of mainstream audiences on rare occasions – for example when a young girl or woman dies in a menstruating hut (Chhaupadi practice), or when of course the Home Minister makes an announcement to allow respite to female traffic police officers during menstruation.

On 28th May, 2024 on the occasion of Nepal’s Republic Day and also Menstrual Hygiene Day, Nepal’s Minister for Home Affairs, Rabi Lamichhane took to X (formerly Twitter) to make two announcements – one, that traffic offenders such as those who would drink and drive would volunteer to assist traffic personnel, and two, female traffic officers would not have perform traffic related duties on the road during the first four since the onset of their menstruation.

However, the Supreme Court issued an interim order not to implement the ministerial decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Following the Supreme Court’s order, the decision to deploy drivers/violators as volunteers on the roads has been stopped, while the decision not to deploy female traffic police on the roads for four days during menstruation is still being enforced.

Traffic police, in general, face many discomforts compared to other public sector occupations. In a country like Nepal, traffic police must deal with numerous issues such as rising air pollution, drenching rain, burning eyes, and back pain from standing on the road all day. Increasing temperatures, dust, and commotion in traffic police squares exacerbate these issues, making it challenging for traffic police working on the roads. A study published in the International Journal of Health Science and Research mentions that traffic police who have to constantly blow their whistles, give vocal directions to people, and low rates of mask and glass use is making traffic police further vulnerable to growing air pollution.

No doubt, the situation is even more difficult during menstruation. According to the SSP Jeevan Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for the Kathmandu Metropolitan Traffic Police Office, “women do face difficulties during menstruation. In such a situation, the Home Minister’s decision to relieve female traffic police officers from street duty is welcoming”.

“Not only during menstruation, but we do not deploy any police on the road if they report a headache or any other health discomforts. We have been coordinating with them by letting them rest, involving them in other administrative office work, while also providing medical facilities.”

Traffic Police on duty in front of Singha Durbar/ File Photo

 

The welcomeness is echoed by a few police officers as well. A female traffic police officer working at the Traffic Police Office, Ramshahpath, Kathmandu Metropolitan, told Aawaaj News on the condition of anonymity that the recent decision made by Home Minister Lamichhane has made it somewhat easier for women to perform their duties.

“The decision taken by the Home Minister is very good. The job is challenging, especially for us females during menstruation. Some need to take medicines, some experience heavier bleeding and other discomforts. The implementation of this as a rule has also made it easier for us speak about our experiences. We can now freely ask for leave while highlighting our difficulties,” she said. The fact that the Home Minister’s decision has allowed such concerns to be spoken freely about is a welcome move.

However, female traffic police have many complaints as well. Although the traffic office allows them to rest if needed during menstruation, they say that it does not pay much attention to the service facilities required for women.

“It is difficult for us women. Menstruation itself causes physical pain, and the pain increases when working on duty. Our waist, back and stomach hurts – sometimes simultaneously”, she added. Having to run to shops for sanitary pads during menstruation was a major concern highlighted by several traffic policewomen who spoke to Aawaaj News. Some highlighted the problems of availability of facilities as well. Women experience difficulties when they have to change their sanitary pads during jobs.

Some departments coordinate with nearby hotels, restaurants, and government offices to provide facilities for the traffic police on duty, but police officers often find these facilities locked. “We are traffic police, we have to be on the road, working. We are not looking for exceptional facilities. But easy access to toilets, availability of water and access to pads/menstrual cups etc., are essential, especially for female traffic police during menstruation. Proper arrangements should be made for such facilities. These are the bare minimum.” she said.

Speaking on this matter, the spokesperson of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Traffic Police Office, SSP Jeevan Kumar Shrestha, said that no one should be made to do difficult work when they are sick or in difficulty.

Spokesperson Shrestha said that there are many problems for the traffic police, but they are managing them and serving the public. “Standing on the road all day can cause back problems, air pollution, noise pollution which could lead to further health complications. But we are the police, we have to manage such problems. We are not working hard for ourselves. It is not possible to construct a toilet in every location. We coordinate with nearby hotels or government offices,” Shrestha said. He claims that the arrangement made by the Home Minister ensures that women should not work when they are menstruating if they have a problem.

Traffic Police of duty in front of Singha Durbar/ File Photo

 

A decent menstrual workplace should be created

According to advocates of dignified menstrual health, a blanket decision such as the Home Minister’s decision runs the risks of essentializing women, while also denies diversity of menstruation experiences faced by women.

Dr Radha Paudel, founder of the Radha Poudel Foundation and the Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation states that “Instead of asking female traffic police not to come to the street for four days, they should be given time to change pads every four hours or make other additional arrangements.”

According to her, not everyone experiences serious problems during menstruation. However, those who do need treatment and facilitation should have a decent menstrual workplace with convenient facilities.

Talking to Aawaaj News, she said, “To ensure a better working place, menstrual pads should be provided in every office. If a woman has physical problems before or during menstruation, her colleagues or seniors should understand her physical condition.”

She said that the decision made by the Home Minister is likely to increase menstrual discrimination. Therefore, such practices and decisions should be established in the law only after understanding its locality and need.

“Clean water should be provided, toilets should be arranged so that pads can be managed, and a room to rest for a few hours in case of back pain should be arranged. Every office, whether it is the traffic police office or the Prime Minister’s office, should be menstrual-friendly. Menstruation is not a matter of shame. We should create an environment where we can celebrate that limited menstruation is friendly. No one should complain about menstruation leave or rest. It is the need of the day to make a decent menstruation-friendly policy,” she said.