Breaking Menstrual Taboos, One Cycle at a Time

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Sadhana in the menstrual hygiene class

Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation (MoWSS) hosted Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Policy Consultation workshop on 9 and 10 February 2017 in coordination with various stakeholders working in Menstrual Hygiene Management and WASH including Save the Children. The workshop held in Kathmandu served as a platform for open discussion to improve the situation of menstrual hygiene management in Nepal.

During the platform girls and women from various part of Nepal shared their experiences about menstruation and impacts of superstitious belief and lack of information on menstruation. Sadhana-14 from Kapilvastu, one of the young girls of MHM program echoed voice of girls of her region on menstrual hygiene through her story too. She proudly shared that she has not missed school after she received enough information about menstruation and learned making home-made pads. Read her full story here.

Sadhana is a 14-year-old studying in grade eight in Kapilvastu, a district in the western region of Nepal. She had her first menstrual cycle a few years ago. Till a year ago, she used to rush back home as soon as her periods began – to make sure that no one at school noticed it. But these days, she just turns to her teacher Sharada to request for a sanitary pad before resuming class.

"We not only ask our teacher for pads, but also consult with her if we have any problems regarding our sexual and reproductive health,” says Sadhana.

The menstrual hygiene program has been providing training to schools to arrange for sanitary pads. This helps girl students during emergencies. The program also promotes use of home-made pad to help the students prepare cheap and re-useable pad. Through the intervention, the program aims to contribute to learning of adolescent girls and offer them opportunities to manage their health issues.

Prior to the program, Sadhana used to skip school three days a month during her menstrual cycle. She feared that the blood would stain her uniform, leading to embarrassment and shame in school. But once their teacher, Sharada, received a training on making pads, she taught the same to her students, benefitting Sadhana and many like her. "After Sharada Ma’am taught us to make homemade pads, I made one pad in her class and one after I returned home. I also shared this knowledge with my sisters-in-law, who made such pads for comfortable travel,” shares Sadhana.

The home-made pad has immensely increased Sadhana's confidence. She knows that proper use of the pad will leave no stains on her clothes. So she never skips school during her periods, unless she is unwell.

This change and openness was not achieved easily – at the beginning, none of the girls dared open up and talk about their periods. When their teacher held classes on menstrual hygiene, all the girls hung their heads down and remained quiet. Although most of them had already begun their periods, the girls could not think of it as a normal bodily function.

Take Sadhana, for instance. She learned about menstruation from her mother and sister in law. They taught her whatever tradition and rituals dictated – that no one should know when you are menstruating; and that the clothes used during menstruation should be hidden and not dried openly.

"After I took classes from our Ma’am, I understood that the traditional beliefs were not necessarily correct,” says Sadhana. The classes that Sharada Ma’am conducted on reproductive and sexual health taught her that menstruation is natural. Sadhana learned that she just needs to maintain her hygiene and share any problems with elders.

"I also shared my learning with my mother and sister in laws. I told them about the reason behind menstruation as well as the process. I taught them to clean the clothes used while menstruating, and to dry them under the sun.” While Sadhana has learnt many things and implemented them as well, she also wishes that her younger schoolmates will have the same access to information and skills.