Is a Period a Curse for Girls in Nepal?

By Nicole Nelson|June 13, 2017

Imagine a young girl living in Nepal, having to sleep in a cold, damp, mud floored cowshed because her period arrived; unable to sleep in her bed until it’s over. For many girls in Nepal, this is the reality. This age old tradition is called chaupadi and is deeply rooted in Hindu religion. In Western Nepal, chaupadi is still practiced, despite being made illegal in 2005. In 2014, it was reported that 44% of girls still practice chaupadi in Mid and Far Western regions of Nepal. Chaupadi is one of many challenges some girls have to face in Nepal when they have their period. The beliefs about menstruation in Nepal can influence girls to skip school while on their period,  which can have a damaging impact on their education and future.


Menstruation is a natural bodily process that every girl must go through. In Nepal, however it means taking on a heavy burden every 28 days that can have great risks to their health and safety. 82% of girls believe that menstruation is a curse. With the traditions, stigma, and shame attached to menstruation in Nepal, it is easy to see why one might think that. Much of this can be credited to the absence of women’s equity in Nepal. For example, The mid and far western districts are geographically and legislatively remote and isolated. In the Accham district, a women has never been elected as a village chairman, nor has any woman from Achham, Bajang, Bajura, and Kanchanpur (four districts where chaupadi is prevalent) been on the state assembly. Some politicians at village and state level still believe in the tradition, making it hard to change and enforce new, safer policies.

 

In Nepal, when a girl is menstruating they are seen as ‘impure’, where menstruation causes their blood to become contaminated or polluted, and this stigma continues into adulthood. When families and communities follow these beliefs and traditions associated with menstruation, there are great consequences for the girls. Depending on the region and traditions, when a girl has her period she may not be allowed to enter the kitchen, sleep in her home, touch books, go to school, touch male members of the family, attend religious events, or touch food or animals as it is believed touching them will cause them to rot and die.

The Impact

The social stigma against menstruation has severe implications on their health. Many girls do not know how to properly practice menstrual hygiene, which as a consequence can cause rashes, infections, and illnesses. Many of them also lack access to clean water, soap, private toilets, and a way to dispose of their cloth or pad. When a girl is forced to participate in chaupadi, she is exposing herself to harsh weather conditions, animal attacks, rape, malnourishment, abduction, and poor hygiene. In 2016, there are multiple reports of girls dying in their huts overnight, due to lighting a fire in their small hut to keep warm and suffocating from the smoke.

 

Many girls in Nepal do not attend school when they have their period, because of the shame, worry, and embarrassment of people finding out they have their period or of blood leaking onto their clothes. Affording sanitary pads can be difficult for girls in Nepal, so using old cloths or other materials such as newspaper or leaves are used as an absorbent. When a girl misses school because of her period, she risks falling behind in her studies, having to then catch up on the material she missed when she returns. When they are missing school they can fall behind their peers, which may cause them to lose interest and drop out of school.

 

Some organizations have begun providing sanitary period kits. These kits provide girls with reusable sanitary pads, soap, extra pairs of underwear, and bags to hold the used pads. Additionally, they are providing girls with education on feminine health, causes of menstruation, and how to properly wash and use the pads in an effort to eliminate the stigma behind menstruation. Providing reusable sanitary pads can take away some of the worry for girls, so they can attend school without fearing they are leaking onto their clothes. Other initiatives in Nepal aim to end the practice of chaupadi by pushing families to let the girls stay in the home during their periods, or advocating to penalize families for enforcing the practice. Some villages have also seen progress by becoming “chaupadi free”, after awareness campaigns from NGO’s and government bodies.

 

For Namlo, the ultimate goal is for all girls (and boys) to access their right to education through equitable practices. But when these traditions and stigmas get in the way of their schooling and their health, reaching that goal becomes harder and harder to achieve. We build schools, provide school supplies and scholarships, but more needs to happen to break down the hidden barriers that many still face. Some girls are bound by these menstrual taboos that are having a serious effect on their life. In order to move forward we need to recognize and talk about menstruation in Nepal, and partner with the organizations doing this work already. Without understanding the reality of what these girls are going through, we cannot move forward with achieving our goals.

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