Redefining Menstruation: It's Not the Problem, It's the HygienePublished: May 27, 2023 Reading time: 3 minutes
“Without assistance and advocacy, obtaining reliable knowledge about menstruation, as well as maintaining proper hygiene and good health, will be challenging”
Numerous teenage girls living in remote areas of Nepal experience menstrual difficulties silently. Cultural norms surrounding menstruation, scarcity of financial resources, social stigma, lack of knowledge, and absence of affordable menstrual products contribute to the challenge. Consequently, many girls resort to using whatever resources are available, such as old rags to cope with their menstrual cycle. This can cause infections, particularly when hygiene practices are inadequate. Many do not prioritize sanitary products for the sake of food, due to the financial burden in the families of marginalized communities which eventually leads girls to miss school as a result of difficulties regulating their menstrual hygiene.
Archana Chaudhary, a 30-year-old woman from a remote village of Bara district in Nepal, had always been aware of the challenges faced by young girls in regards to Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). In remote village like hers, disposable sanitary pads are not widely available. When they are accessible, their high cost serves as a barrier that prevents many people from obtaining them.
Archana joined as a life skill facilitator at two of the Community Learning Centers (CLCs) in Bara district run by Aarambha project which is led by People in Need in partnership with Aasaman Nepal and SODCC and supported by UK Aid’s Girls’ Education Challenge. The project seeks to improve the lives of out-of-school adolescent girls aged between 10 and 19 through literacy, numeracy, life skills, and community mobilization for social transformation.
Archana along with 68 other life skills facilitators across 135 CLCs assists out-of-school adolescent girls in developing effective presentation skills and promoting self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-awareness in their classes. Therefore, to equip them with knowledge on sustainable menstrual hygiene management, the project conducted training on how to make reusable sanitary pads and oriented them on menstrual hygiene along with 50 school teachers. After the completion of the training, they then shared this knowledge with the girls in the Community Learning Centers (CLCs) as well as in the schools.
Archana is determined to make a difference in her community and support girls through their menstrual cycles. Besides, teaching the girls on how to make the handmade reusable sanitary pads, she also educates the girls about sexual and reproductive health rights and menstrual hygiene through various educational tools like videos, illustrative posters, books, and plays. Archana shares, "The project really helped me, the girls in the CLC and the community to understand that Menstruation is not a problem, poor menstrual hygiene is.”
Archana’s efforts had a ripple effect in her community. “The girls are keen to know more about menstruation because it is a new thing to them and something that is not discussed openly. Even their mothers and family members do not share information about menstruation as it is still considered taboo.” The project also created significant discussion among young girls and their relatives and friends about a topic that was once considered taboo.
Now, because of the project intervention, even the young girls who haven’t started their periods are aware and knows what to do when they will have their first period.
As a result, the gap in safe sanitary pad usage has been addressed, along with behavioral change regarding better menstrual hygiene practices. Overall, 118 women in Bara and Rautahat districts were provided with new skills which they replicated in every CLC’s and schools the project had intervene to assist adolescent girls to receive greater awareness on menstrual hygiene, manage their periods using handmade reusable cloth pads made from clean cotton, and to enable them to learn, grow in confidence, and improve their self-esteem.