Celebrating menstruation in Nepal

If you Google the words ‘menstruation’ and ‘Nepal’, one will come across articles upon articles about tragic deaths in menstrual chhau huts from smoke inhalation and snake bites. Much of the media attention is focused on extreme cases in the Far West.

But largely left is how many women and girls across Nepal lack the basic right to dignified menstruation. Exclusionary practices, stigma and taboos around menstruation, underpinned by traditional religious and cultural beliefs, prevent them from fully participating in economic and social life with consequences on schooling, employment and physical and mental health.

New research entitled ‘Dignity Without Danger’ funded by the British Academy Global Challenge Research Fund has brought together researchers from Liverpool John Moores University, the School of Oriental and African Studies in the United Kingdom, and Tribhuvan University to identify and celebrate menstrual activists in Nepal. They have made re-washable and biodegradable pads, developed educational toolkits on periods, and advocated for menstrual rights through art and media.

Communicating to remove menstrual taboo, Sewa Bhattarai

This research is focused on the menstrual dignity of Nepali women and girls, and their rights to sexual and reproductive health to enable them to challenge exclusionary practices that still exist despite being outlawed. The project worked with existing local partners and trained local researchers in rapid ethnography, who then visited all seven provinces to explore and analyse the complexity of menstrual knowledge.

To reduce the suffering, discrimination and violence against menstruating women and girls, and to promote partnership for sustainable human development, it identified key areas where collaborative work with local  actors and communities is crucial, and developed creative outputs, policy recommendations and strategies to support the work being done in Nepal.

The project collaborated with groups including the Menstrual Health and Hygiene Partnership Alliance (MHM PA) and creative artists such as Kaalo.101 and Jay Poudyal from Stories of Nepal to engage a wide audience to help break the stigma and create spaces for people to discuss their own beliefs and practices and challenge stereotypical views.

Read also: Nepal’s superwomen beat superstition, Aruna Uprety

The MHM PA has worked with relevant ministries to develop a Dignified Menstruation Policy that has yet to be ratified and the Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation was founded by the Nepali NGO the Radha Paudel Foundation.

Global Action Nepal has also worked with MHM PA and GiZ, as well as educational experts and relevant ministries to develop and pilot a ‘menstrual education toolkit’ to help collate, develop and promote quality educational resources which can be used in schools and community settings. These will also be on display during the events to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day this week under the global theme of menstrual education.

We will also be launching a book with stories of our 34 activists in September this year to inspire others to share their own stories so we can learn more about what is happening on the ground. These individuals come from different backgrounds, but together for a cause, to challenge negative attitudes, educate people about menstruation, advocate for policies and support initiatives to help people to manage their menstruation.

Read also: Removing menstrual shame, Clara Hare-Grogg

Many are part of MHM PA Nepal while others are more grounded in the local level, all collectively making Nepal a leader in menstrual activism.

This forthcoming book will be available online and along with the exhibition on 27 May at Dhokaima Café in Patan a bike tour organised by X-pose Nepal will take place on 28 May, World Menstrual Hygiene Day, to celebrate the activism in Nepal, all the while helping to break the stigma and silence that surrounds menstruation.

Read also: Bloody period, Nepali Times

To share your own stories: @dignitywithoutdanger, @DWDNepal

Sara Parker is a lecturer at the Liverpool John Moores University in the UK and Madhusudan Subedi is a Professor of Sociology at Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

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