In Nepal, despite of the legal ban on “period hut” practices, menstruating women still face immense social ostracism and exclusion. Like the majority of rural areas, the village of Dakshinkali in Batase does not cease to view menstruation as a huge social taboo.
Even though the practice of chhaupadi, chasing women away from their homes to “period huts,” is no longer present in the village, while menstruating its women are still forced to stay away from the temples and their own kitchen – a sacred space of each Nepalese household. “Back it times the women of our villages were sent away to cattle sheds. Today we still cannot touch food, fetch water or pray,” explains one of the Dakshinkali women.
A girl who gets her period for the first time remains isolated for two consecutive weeks, as she is “not allowed to see the sun”. The community members believe that plants die from a menstruating woman’s touch: “We are also not allowed to approach our men or the elderly, as they claim that it brings bad luck.”
“This time of the month” is a shameful topic that remains among women only. Girls say they get some scarce knowledge about what is happening to their bodies from teachers, mothers and friends, with period-related chats being whispered secretly in the corridors and on the way back from school. “We can talk about this to our mums, but not our dads,” says a fourteen-year-old girl. “We should be able to talk about this to men too!” shouts out one of the women gathered in all-female crowd, cuddling a toddler on her lap.
In the not-so-distant past, whenever school girls would get their period, they had to ask a teacher at school for a sanitary pad, or use an old cloth snatched from home. To get a proper sanitary pad, all women had to walk for over an hour to a neighboring village, as there is no shop selling personal hygiene products in the vicinity.
For Caritas Nepal, fulfilling the basic needs of girls and women in the post-earthquake context was one of the outmost priorities. The training on menstrual hygiene management conducted in August 2018 equipped the young women of Dakshinkali with practical knowledge on how to make their own sanitary pads and properly take care of intimate hygiene during their menstruation cycle. “We learnt that to make a pad we should use white cloth, wash it daily and dry it in the sun for 4-5 hours to disinfect it,” they recall, admitting they had been ashamed of putting the cloths to dry outdoors before. “We were also told to bathe daily, cleaning our private parts with soap and water.” The schoolgirls say how they passed the newly acquired information onto their mothers too, playing an important role of knowledge multipliers. “My mum thought the tips were very good,” says one of the students. Another one adds: “This training built our confidence, showed us some things were just natural. Also, now we do not need to ask money for sanitary pads from our family anymore, as we can make them on our own. We made one pad during the training and then 4-5 at home to have spare ones to use during our periods.”
“Our husbands should have such knowledge too,” the women we talk to jointly admit they do feel suppressed due to the awareness gap and existing customs. “Men still force us to work even though we feel bad while on our period. We cannot touch dishes or water, but we still need to be out in the fields,” they say bitterly. “If male members and older generations could understand what we are going through, our lives would be much easier.”
The training took place within a framework of the Livelihood and WASH Recovery Project, implemented together with Janahit Gramin Sewa Samittee (JGSS) as part of Caritas Nepal’s post-earthquake efforts in the district of Sindhupalchowk.