In Nepal, menstrual health has been a long-standing concern due to several cultural, economic, and social factors. Lack of awareness, limited access to sanitary products, and inadequate sanitation facilities pose significant challenges to women and girls, particularly in rural areas. The pervasive stigmatization and taboos surrounding menstruation further exacerbate the problem, leading to negative psychological and physical health outcomes for women.

Menstrual Hygiene Day serves as a platform to advocate for menstrual hygiene management and raise awareness about its importance. It promotes a world where no woman or girl is held back by her period. One of the crucial aspects of promoting menstrual health in Nepal is providing accurate information about menstruation. Several organizations, NGOs, and government initiatives have been working tirelessly to debunk myths, challenge social norms, and educate both women and men about menstruation. These efforts aim to foster a supportive environment where open discussions on menstrual health are encouraged and women can access reliable information.

On May 26th, WaterAid Nepal organized a panel discussion with the Mayor of Lalitpur Chiri Babu Maharjan, Meena Shrestha, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Water Supply, Sudha Shrestha, National Professional Officer/ WASH, UN-Habitat and WaterAid Nepal Country Director Tripti Rai. The panel discussion was part of the #TalkToilet campaign and took place after the bus tour that involved visiting various public toilets around the Lalitpur metropolis early that morning.

Panelists Chiri Babu Maharjan (Mayor, Lalitpur Metro), Meena Shrestha (Joint Secretary, Ministry of Water Supply), Sudha Shrestha (National Professional Officer/ WASH UN-Habitat) and Tripti Rai (Country Director/WaterAid Nepal) (Image: Supplied)

A good chunk of discussion regarding menstrual hygiene, in general, goes hand-in-hand with improving sanitation and accessibility of public toilets. The panel discussion included audience participation, where people like Rajendra Aryal shed light on issues he had observed. Aryal, previously working in the ODF campaign, is now focused on bringing clean drinking water to people, and said, “Although there are a couple of good toilets in Kathmandu Valley, the districts and government should collaborate to manage and build smart toilets.”

The discussion saw commitments from the panelists, and Mayor Chiri Babu Maharjan announced that his administration has already started working towards building at least one smart, female-friendly toilet in every ward in Lalitpur. An AEROSAN toilet in Patan Dhoka was part of the bus tour, and the toilet includes facilities like a sanitary pad dispenser, sanitary pad disposal machine, a platform for women to change diapers or breastfeed, and everything from the flush system to the sink are motion-sensor activated to ensure better hygiene.

Lalitpur Mayor Chiri Babu Maharjan commits to building additional female-friendly toilets. (Image: Social Media / WaterAid Nepal)

Lalitpur Mayor Chiri Babu Maharjan commits to building additional female-friendly toilets. (Image: Social Media / WaterAid Nepal)

The #TalkToilet campaign, on the occasion of Menstrual Hygiene Day 2023 – which was celebrated on the 28th of May – included an exhibition showing a massive queen chess piece. The chess piece had red paint symbolizing blood. Next to it was a table with a chess board – but there was something amiss. The chess board had no queen on both the black and white sides. The queen’s absence from the chess board showed how women often miss out on employment due to menstruation, and any chess-savvy person would see it challenging to win a game of chess without the queen. When women are absent from work and school due to their periods, there are significant losses for both the individual and the society. Everyone loses.

A good example of tackling this issue was brought up during the discussion. The Mayor of Birendranagar, Mohan Maya Dhakal, has been providing free sanitary pads to all women in her municipality.

According to Dr. Ganesh Dangal – Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Kathmandu Model Hospital; “By educating people about the biological processes, hygiene practices, and emotional aspects of menstruation, it helps dispel myths, reduce fear, and foster healthier attitudes. Promoting positive and accurate portrayals of menstruation in the media challenges stereotypes and stigma. Movies, TV shows, and advertisements that depict menstruation as a normal part of life play a significant role in normalizing the topic and breaking taboos.”

Lack of access to affordable and hygienic menstrual products is a persistent challenge in Nepal. However, various organizations have taken steps to address this issue. For instance, initiatives promoting the production of reusable cloth pads have gained momentum, offering an environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to disposable pads. Additionally, NGOs and government programs have been working to distribute sanitary products to women and girls in need, ensuring they have access to a range of options. Moreover, menstrual-friendly infrastructure, such as water facilities and waste management systems, should be incorporated to enhance menstrual hygiene practices across the country.

In a statement to Aawaaj News, Dr. Aditi Sharma, Research Scientist at Stanford University said, “It is crucial to adopt a community-centered approach that respects the realities and cultural nuances of Nepal, ensuring our efforts are effective and inclusive. To create a lasting impact, we must address the diverse needs of all menstruators and encompass the entire range of menstrual issues in our policy and advocacy work, including but not limited to menstrual health equity, menstrual stigma and taboos, menstrual disorders, menopause transition, and the menstrual experiences of transgender individuals.”

Challenging the stigma associated with menstruation remains a significant task in Nepal. However, Menstrual Hygiene Day serves as an important platform to address this issue head-on. By organizing awareness campaigns, workshops, and cultural events, communities are encouraged to engage in open conversations about menstruation. As stated by Dr. Dangal, media, including television, radio, and social media platforms also play a crucial role in normalizing menstruation and debunking harmful beliefs.In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of menstrual health and hygiene, leading to various initiatives aimed at empowering women and breaking the taboos associated with menstruation. As we celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day in 2023, it is crucial to shed light on the progress made in Nepal and the challenges that still lie ahead.