In many parts of Nepal, women face numerous challenges, and one of the most fundamental issues is the lack of access to clean water and sanitary pads. Clean water is needed to wash one’s body and hands regularly, and clean reusable pads or menstrual cups. Without access to clean water, one may resort to unhygienic practices, leading to infections and health complications.

According to Chet Narayan Kafle, In-Charge of Jamuni Health Post in Bardiya, WASH has a big preventative function in public health as the reduced number of illnesses can provide better livelihood and decrease medical costs. He says, “Menstrual hygiene is a big priority.

While sanitary pads are provided to an extent and schools are also doing the same, many women still do not have access to them and some choose to not use them on purpose. Due to prevailing traditional customs and attitudes, they opt to use regular cloth and dry them in unsanitary places. The view is that drying the menstrual cloths out in the open is shameful. The resulting inadequate sanitary measures can lead to fungal growth and UTIs.”

Reusing the same regular cloth and cleaning it with untreated water is still a massive issue. It is an unfortunate convergence of prevalent traditional views and a lack of access to clean water.

While changing long-term societal views on menstruation is crucial in developing a safer environment for women and girls, some progress has been made in settings like schools – especially since the introduction of the free sanitary pads.

In Janachahana Adharbhut Bidhyalaya of Bardiya district, the school has been reporting a decrease in absenteeism due to periods. However, sadly, the school faces a huge challenge of ensuring other important elements for dignified menstruation – such as availability of water, and clean toilets. The school lacks both, and students complained that they faced difficulties due to the lack of both. “We get free sanitary pads, and the toilets have dustbins to dispose the pad – but we don’t have water at the toilet”, Ranjana Kathayat of grade eight shared.

The principal also said that while children don’t miss entire days due to lack of sanitary pads, they still missed a class or two due to the lack of an infirmary room for students to rest.

Inadequate facilities disproportionately affect women and girls, hindering their participation in education, work, and public life. Improving menstrual health management through better access to menstrual hygiene and health management is a step toward leveling the playing field. When individuals can better manage their menstrual health, it leads to fewer missed school or work days. This, in turn, enhances economic productivity and overall community development.