By Nushla Pradhan

Though menstruation is a physiological process that begins during adolescence, for the 31.2 percent of Nepali population who live close to the poverty line — period is a financial as well as mental burden for menstruating individuals and their families.

Period Poverty is a global issue faced by menstruating individuals. It describes the lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene services, sanitation, and education about Menstrual Hygiene Management. This grave obstacle disproportionately affects menstruating individuals from impoverished and marginalized communities across the world.

Severe lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene coupled with economic hurdles leading to period poverty is not an uncommon scenario among Nepali population living in rural areas and some urban settlements.

Menstruation related issues in such communities do not just end with discriminatory practices, but extend to inaccessibility of sanitary napkins and clean running water, among other hygiene necessities.

A 2017 study about Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management in Nepal showed that only 15% of menstruating individuals use pads while 83% rely on cloth and other alternatives. Period poverty has led a majority of menstruating individuals to continue with discriminatory practices while relying on traditional alternatives such as old pieces of clothes and even leaves to manage their periods.

“While relaying their menstruation related problems during a pad distribution campaign in Banke district, female students admitted to using posters hung on walls as pads when they got their period at school,” said Shubhangi Rana, Co-founder of Pad2go, a social enterprise working in Menstrual Health sector.

She added, “Young girls in Sindhupalchowk were thrilled to finally get their hands on disposable sanitary napkins at their schools as they had to make an arduous three-hour journey on foot to go back home just to manage their menstrual needs. The possibility of overflow and leakage had been causing inconvenience to the girls as they could not wash their cloth pads at school.”

Menstruation in Nepal inevitably tags along negative connotations with stigma and social restrictions of all kinds that are often justified in the name of culture and religion. While a commonly used term for menstruation in Nepali ‘nachhune huney’ itself refers to ‘being untouchable’, deep rooted superstitions about menstruation make headway to discriminatory practices against menstruating individuals since they are treated as impure beings.

An unfortunate combination of pre-existing menstrual taboos and lack of accessibility to menstrual products continues to create the most acute situations of period poverty in Nepal because menstruating individuals are forced to back out from daily activities and even abandon educational opportunities.

To ensure dignified menstruation for Nepali menstruators, there are organizations and government efforts to increase sanitary napkin distribution and proper disposal as well as improving hygiene facilities across the country. However, these initiatives alone are not enough to put an end to years of discrimination and struggle faced by menstruating individuals.

Rana emphasized, “To combat period poverty, conducting pad distribution programs alone isn’t enough. A more comprehensive approach to menstrual health management must be implemented. Therefore, training programs and menstrual hygiene awareness must be prioritized.”

Menstrual taboos and superstitious practices cannot be eradicated overnight, so relying on a few social awareness campaigns to change people’s deep-rooted patriarchal values would be an inadequate approach. Rana added, “We cannot expect someone to immediately feel comfortable entering their kitchens and temples when on their period after attending a three-day awareness program as it is important to acknowledge that adapting to radical change takes time.”

“Before we go for outreach campaigns, we need to understand the area’s cultural as well as religious background and the locals’ specific needs,” said Rana. Therefore, it is crucial for training manuals to be area-specific and organizations conducting such programs must adapt to the demography.

Through these committed efforts, a sustainable method can be formed to implement behavioral changes and eventually eliminate period poverty.

Meanwhile, Nepal continues to impose luxury taxes on period products despite them being essential items. The 13% VAT levied creates yet another obstacle in ensuring accessibility of essential period products in rural areas.

The lack of regulation on maximum retail prices of products in Nepal also adds on to make period products unaffordable as the same pads selling for Rs 60 in Kathmandu are being sold at Rs 100 in Simikot.

Without proper consideration of this issue, a ceaseless cycle of inequality against the most vulnerable individuals will continue to foster. Therefore, it is crucial for the government to understand the root causes of period poverty and how it unreasonably degrades the lives of menstruating individuals who are already ostracized due to menstrual taboos.

Active collaboration of the government with organizations working for the same cause will allow room to create positive change in the field of Menstrual Health in Nepal.