Menstruation is a natural process, and every person has a right to manage their menstruation with dignity. But sadly, we are quite far away from such a reality – mostly owing to restrictions stemming from religious and cultural superstitions, lack of awareness about the importance of managing periods safely, and period poverty.
According to data by UNICEF, 52 percent of the female population in the world, or 26 percent of the total population in the world is of reproductive age. This means menstruation is a natural, monthly occurring process for all these women and girls but Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is limited for most of these women and girls as menstruation continues to be the subject of taboo in society, especially in developing countries like Nepal.
Every year, on May 28, Menstrual Hygiene Day is celebrated to understand the importance of menstrual hygiene for women. This is a good day to reflect on the problem and the challenges pertaining to menstrual health management and to learn about the incredible initiatives taken by many across the world to help usher in change.
This is one such story – of two individuals who are looking to mainstream discussions around menstruation round the year through their podcast – “Period Kaa Kura”. ‘Period Kaa Kura’ brings out difficult yet uninterrupted conversations and experiences about being a woman in order to shatter misconceptions, taboos, and stigmas related to menstrual health, while also raising awareness on the importance of safe menstrual hygiene management.
Co-founders Priyanka Budhathoki and Shristi Kafle say the concept of the podcast was a personal initiation as almost every female has some question regarding menstruation but are shy or harbour fears to talk about it.
“Through the podcast, we wanted to put shame against menstruation aside and speak about it openly. It’s been more than 3 years since we first started the podcast and we still have so many topics to discuss about, which goes on to show how vast the issue is,” said Priyanka.
The podcast revolves around cultural, generational and societal discrimination and disinterest towards menstrual health, while also raising awareness on important menstrual health topics such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Menopause. People consider period as ‘women’s issue’ but people need to understand that menstruation is more of a public health issue with deep undertones of gender disparity.
“Menstrual hygiene of women is deeply impacted due to societal taboos. For example, in the far-west, women are banished from their homes to huts referred to as ‘Chaupadi’ during their period – which has profound ramifications on not only the reproductive health of a woman but also on their mental health and emotional well-being. Additionally in many situations, ‘period poverty’ which is the inability to access safe menstrual products means women have to reuse old clothes.
Now while there isn’t much of a problem with reusing old clothes – the issue here is, “Is the woman able to properly clean and dry the cloth before reusing it?” Because we live in a society where discussions around periods are discouraged, of course, a woman is going to hide her cloth as well. When she washes and dries the cloth discreetly, she will be reusing unhygienic old clothes which are going to affect her health” said Shristi.
Similarly, girls aren’t properly introduced to menstruation at a young age which brings period stigma.
“The government has included chapters on sexual and reproductive health from the lower secondary level which can help spread awareness at a young age and even among boys, which is really necessary. However, many teachers shy away from the topic and skip it or just recite whatever is in the book hurriedly to finish the chapter,” informs Shristi.
Lack of public toilets, even in city areas, really adds to the woes. “Women don’t even feel comfortable using public toilets even on regular days and the problem amplifies during menstruation. The public toilets don’t offer bins to dispose sanitary pads and even lack water and soap,” grieved Priyanka.
Lack of access to good quality sanitary products and poor sanitation facilities in schools can also be associated with absenteeism and dropout, several studies have shown.
It needs to be ensured that the menstrual products are affordable, accessible even in regional areas and sustainable while maintaining the quality which will help in spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene.
There are steps being taken by the people, the government and other stakeholders in the area. Females in many households aren’t restricted to do things like back in the day, similarly, the government is conducting programs such as free distribution of sanitary pads in schools and NGOs are also making efforts through trainings and programs to aware society about menstruation.
While such initiatives are commendable, Shristi stresses on monitoring. For example, the government has banished Chaupadi, but the practice continues in many parts. The huts are no longer there, but menstruating women are still segregated from home, and are asked to spend their menstruating days in an unused room in a home – so is the law to banish Chaupadi really effective”, she asks? She further stresses on monitoring the government’s program to distribute free sanitary pads in schools. “Who is monitoring them?”, she asks.
While the utopian society we hope for in terms of menstruating women may be far away, Shristi believes what we have achieved in the past few decades can be considered slight progress, especially when we compare our situation with our parents, or worse, with our grandparents.
“Because menstruation is intrinsically tied to socio-cultural beliefs, change cannot be achieved overnight. We do our part, and everyone needs to do theirs”. Shristi informs us.
As Priyanka says, “It is not about normalizing the topic of menstruation as if it is a regular thing, but spreading awareness to people about menstrual health and rights”.