In Nepal, public schools are attended mostly by people with low income settings. While such schools run on government fund and charge minimal to no fees from the pupils, students of such school barely have the money to buy their uniforms. Hence, buying sanitary pads during menstrual cycle is next to impossible to the girl students attending public schools.
Moreover, hesitance to talk about menstruation in school or lack of knowledge regarding menstrual hygiene has hit both students and teachers alike. To avert such problems, Shree Bal Byabasayee Kendra Secondary School in Sifal of Kathmandu has appointed a female “pad officer” at the school to ease the distribution of sanitary pads.
Bhawana Khanal, teacher as well as pad officer at the Shree Bal Byabasayee School, said, “Red Cross Nepal had donated us a huge bulk of sanitary pads some two years ago and I’ve been distributing pads from the same stock to the girl students till date. Before we got the pads, we used to send menstruating girls home.”
Thapa’s MA thesis was related to menstruating girls in schools and she believes her knowledge on the matter helped her secure the position of pad officer at the school. “Some girls complain of severe period cramps while others come with period stained uniforms. In such cases, we have no option but to send them home. We used to send almost 10 students home each day in the past, but things have changed of late,” said Thapa.
After Thapa was appointed the pad officer, girl students of the school started to talk openly about their period problems with her. “I might not be present in the school every day, but I have taught my students that they can share their period problems with anyone. Earlier, girls used to come to me and tell me that they had ‘a problem’. They wouldn’t even utter the word menstruation. But I have taught them to be proud of their periods and it is a biological process,” Thapa shared.
She added that the number of girls missing school during their periods has significantly slumped since the availability of sanitary pads at schools.
According to a 2009 survey by Water Aid, the key reasons girls were absent while menstruating was a lack of privacy, unavailability of sanitary disposal facilities and water shortages. Although some progress has been made in the past few years in case of Nepal, the teachers as well as students still fail to link menstrual hygiene management and sanitation systems in schools. Improper disposal of sanitary pads can lead to public health issues and clogging of toilets.
Though almost 78 percent of schools in Nepal have access to water supply facilities and 82 percent to basic sanitation facilities, most public schools still lack consistent water supply and adequate waste disposal solutions.
The School Sector Development Plan (2016-2023) and Total Sanitation Guideline 2017 identify menstruation as a natural process that requires proper water sanitation and hygiene services in schools. As per the plan and guidelines, toilets in schools must have running water, along with a bucket with a cover inside the toilet itself or an incinerator attached outside the toilet, and students must have access to sanitary pads in order to maintain menstrual hygiene.
Coordinator of the Shree Bal Byabasayee School, Dipak Bhusal said, “Once we run out of the donated pads, we’re planning to buy them and distribute them for a minimal charge. Some NGOs complained that we had not kept dustbins in our toilets for proper disposal of the pads. So we obliged. Now, we have a dustbin in the toilet, proper hand washing facilities as well as pads at the school.” He added that the school is in perennial lack of funds, so they can’t afford to install modern sanitary pad vending machines.
Meanwhile, Prabhakar Neupane, Principal of Shree Siddheshwar Secondary School in Tinkuney of Kathmandu said that his school buys pads most of the time and distribute it to the students free of cost. “Though sometimes a few non-governmental organizations donate us sanitary pads, we mostly have to buy them. We’ve been providing free of cost pads at our school for nearly six years now. The government has assured us that it will provide free of cost pads in the near future,” he said.
The school also has a donation box, where students can voluntarily donate some money, which collects fund to buy sanitary pads. “We have assigned a female teacher, who is also the accountant, to distribute the pads to the students in need. Having a female teacher counsel students about menstrual hygiene has proved to be helpful,” he said.
Likewise, Siddheshwar School uses filtered boring water for the toilets so they have running water at all hours of the day. Neupane said that sometimes students clog the toilets by trying to flush sanitary pads. “We have kept a dustbin in the toilet, but some students still shove the pads in the toilet for want of awareness.”
Neupane further added that the school has a pad disposal system in the ladies’ washroom. Upon inspecting the ‘system’, it was revealed that one of the toilets has a hole in the wall, through which students can simply dump the pads out in the open. Neupane asserted that the hole in the wall was the only solution because some shy students don’t feel comfortable taking their pads to the dustbin.
Despite the school having a free of cost pad distribution system, dustbins in the toilets, and running water facilities, it lags in the awareness dissemination part regarding menstrual hygiene.
Ratna Rajya (RR) Higher Secondary School is one of the oldest public schools in the country. The school depends on funds by individuals and non-governmental organizations to maintain menstrual hygiene. Sachindra Koirala, health teacher at RR, informed that the school has been distributing free sanitary pads to its girl students for more than six years now.
“UNSCO had provided with a huge cache of sanitary pads in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. The same stock of pads has lasted till date. We are also planning to approach other NGOs and other willing donors for more pads once we run out of the existing ones,” he said. The school using filtered boring water in its toilets, so water shortage is never an issue. RR, however, does not have appropriate dustbins in the ladies’ toilets for disposal of sanitary pads.
Koirala added that his school has appointed a female cleaning staff to distribute pads to the needy students. He said, “Girls feel shy to talk to male teachers about their menstrual needs, so we have employed a female staff.”
The common thread binding most public schools is that they have appointed female staffers to impart information or services regarding menstrual hygiene. Most male teachers at the schools are still miles away from being involved in the menstrual hygiene discourse. This practice has the tendency to isolate menstrual hygiene as a “female problem”.
Though ventures like Pad2go, run by two women, have been challenging the menstrual hygiene discourse at schools and colleges with sanitary pad vending machines, the monthly cycle and maintaining hygiene during periods is still treated as a taboo subject at government schools. Limiting the subject of menstrual hygiene within female staffs and students could prevent students as well as teachers of other genders from learning about it.