Lifting the Stigma Around Menstruation in Nepal

Last week LWH visited a rural school about 1 hour out of Kathmandu to teach the girls about menstrual health and sanitation, and to distribute our eco-friendly, fair trade sanitary kits.

Here in Nepal menstruation still has a stigma surrounding it despite being completely normal in much of the world. This stigma means that 1 in 5 girls will miss school because of their periods. These girls have little understanding of the natural bodily function that is menstruation, with many schools simply forgetting to include it in their curriculum.

When we approached the principal of the school to speak about this topic he seemed baffled at first, but kindly agreed to let us visit and distribute the kits. Out of all the schools we approached none had female principals, a reason, perhaps, why there is a lack of education about female health here in Nepalese schools.  

We had come to learn that this was the first time anyone had come out to this school to educate the students on the topic. The class giggled as we spoke about the causes of menstruation, how to look after yourself during this time. We explained what happens to our body when we grow up, and what causes the female body to react in the way that it does during ovulation. We also talked about the difference between reusable pads and plastic pads.

The class was shocked to hear that a regular sanitary pad can take up to 800 years to decompose, and that they contain synthetic materials and chemicals that can cause allergies and harm your body. When we demonstrated how to use our cotton pads the class giggled again, yet watched closely, intrigued by the demonstration. Despite being shy we knew that the girls were benefiting from this and could then trigger the conversation with their friends and family. An action we hope will help lift the stigma that surrounds this topic in so many parts of Nepal.

The reusable pads are made in our fair trade workshop using cotton, a material that can biodegrade in as little as 5 months. Each pad costs around $7 to make and eliminates a lifetime of regular sanitary napkins entering Nepal’s landfills. We wanted to find a way to empower women while also caring for our fragile environment.

Once the distribution was over we interviewed some of the teachers and asked them how they felt about the talk and the topic. Many struggled with the stigma of menstruation as a child, with some even being a victim of Chhaupadi.

Chhaupadi is social tradition that prohibits women from taking part in normal activities during menstruation. Menstruating women are thought to offend the Hindu gods and bring down a curse on their households if they remain indoors, therefore are banished out of their homes during this time. The women are kept out of the house and have to live in a cattle shed or a makeshift hut for the length of their menstrual cycle.

Sadly, although outlawed by the Supreme Court of Nepal in 2005, the tradition is still common in rural communities, thus feeding the stigma surrounding menstruation in Nepal.

The teachers spoke of their gratitude and hope for the future, but raised their concerns about a slow transition. We hope that in some way these talks and distributions will help to speed up this transition and contribute to a changing mindset here in Nepal.  

Our aim is to continue approaching schools around the country and speaking with them about this important topic, in order to make the women of Nepal feel confident about themselves and their bodies, while also raising important environmental awareness.

A big thank you to all who helped to make this distribution possible.