Because of generational beliefs which associate menstruation with impurity, Nepali girls and women are restricted from participating fully in domestic, religious and public activities during their periods. School-going girls are unfairly impacted by such taboos as they deal with changing bodies, little education about their bodies and period-shaming.
Navigating period woes can be daunting. From excessive bleeding and pain to hormonal changes and period poverty, many suffer in silence due to menstrual stigma. Stigma against menstruating girls also harms their access to education, a problem compounded by the lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities needed for them to manage menstruation with dignity.
For decades, activists at home and abroad have been campaigning for better menstrual health education and tax-free period products among other things so that menstruating individuals are equipped with the needed support.
Yet governmental and media interest in ensuring dignified menstruation and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) are only recently gaining momentum despite that fact that Nepal’s 8.8 million women are of reproductive age.
Most campaigns relating to MHM and period awareness are product-focused. By placing pads, tampons, cups, or undergarments at the center of attention, the stigma surrounding menstruation is often neglected.
Keki Adhikari, a reputed Nepali actor and film producer as well as GIZ Nepal’s Goodwill Ambassador for Menstrual Health Management, has done a short film titled ‘Nepal’s Menstrual Movement’ with the aim to raise awareness about the challenges facing Nepali women and girls during their monthly period.
“Working on the film was a first-hand learning experience for me. Menstrual taboos, despite being deep-rooted, are gradually being debunked by younger generations as relevant campaigns have been intensified at schools,” Adhikari said.
“The reason why I worked on the film is that I wanted to use my impact and privilege to educate as well as make people aware about menstrual health and hygiene. I learned that our individual passion to work towards society’s betterment could benefit from teamwork and collaboration,” added Adhikari.
According to her, one of main things impacting young menstruating individuals is that they shy away from talking about their periods. “Lack of access to water is another reason why girls are missing schools in rural areas. We are currently dubbing the English version of the movie’s second part and we hope that’ll help people easily understand the situation of menstrual health and hygiene in rural Nepal,” said Adhikari.
Strong taboos prevent menstruating individuals from asking for help and support, including asking for free products, or even realizing that they deserve dignity. A Plan International UK study found that nearly half of girls between 14 and 21 were embarrassed by their periods. The shame persists into adulthood: about 20% of UK women surveyed by ActionAid also felt uncomfortable talking about their periods and whether they had a difficult or easy cycle.
The experience of non-binary and trangender people is less clear, but researches show that they face these challenges with additional distress over using public toilets, gender dysphoria, and discrimination.
Support in terms of coping with pain, emotional and physical changes, and normalizing menstruation is key to helping young menstruators smash period shame. Nepal government’s initiative towards free pad distribution at community schools, education institutions employing nurses to deal with period discomfort and improvement in sexual health education have certainly helped broaden the menstruation movement.
For school goers, menstrual cycle and health education for all including boys and teachers will further help ease the discomfort and shame surrounding menstruation.
As young menstruating individuals are comparatively prone to period-shaming, ensuring dignified access to coping strategies such as nutrition and pain medicine could also make a significant difference.
Moreover, including diverse perspectives from the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities and people from varied cultural/ethnic backgrounds is key.
National Conveyer at Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management Partners’ Alliance (MHM PA), Guna Raj Shrestha recommends establishment of inter-ministerial coordination mechanism, wider consultation for approval and implementing of the national policy, formulation of MHM guidelines at the provincial and local levels, setting dignified menstruation – SDG indicators and including menstruation as key part of national campaign of ‘Activism Against Gender based Violence (A-GBV)’, among other things, to ensure dignified menstruation.
Above all, it is vital that we talk about menstruation more freely and work towards shedding the shame that has prevented people from understanding their own bodies for generations.