From discomfort to dignity: menstruation in Nepal
Menstruation in Nepal
Since 2018, the Government of Nepal has recognised the importance of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and is working to eradicate menstruation taboos and encourage dignified menstruation for all women and girls. In support of this new policy, we have now incorporated an MHM element to our Schools and Rural Water and Sanitation Programmes, as well as during our community medical camps.
‘Period Poverty’ has become a hot topic in the UK, with the government providing access to free sanitary products in all schools and colleges from 2020, to prevent students missing lessons and harming their education. But for schoolgirls in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, dealing with their periods poses even more of a challenge.
• 89% of girls in Nepal experience some form of restriction during menstruation, including total seclusion, a limited diet, or prevention from sharing a water source or toilet with others.
• Less than half of girls in Nepal have adequate knowledge of menstruation.
• Almost all of the girls studied have been taught that menstrual blood is ‘impure’ or ‘dirty’.
• Only one in ten girls practices good menstrual hygiene.
• Only 28% of public schools in Nepal have separate facilities with toilets for girls.
• Many girls are forced to bathe and change their cloths or pads away from both home and school, such as in the forest or at a river.
• Many girls admit to missing school altogether during their periods.
• Many girls fear angering their deities by violating any of these restrictions, and bringing misfortune upon themselves or their families.
What we’re doing to help
Our Schools Programme has built more than 300 schools throughout Nepal since 1990, and refurbished over 2,000 more. Our work improving access to education has, to date, benefitted almost one million students across the country. We already built toilet blocks for all major school projects, featuring gender-separate cubicles and hand-washing facilities which are so important for female students in particular. Since 2018, we have also been distributing packs of reusable sanitary pads to GWT-built schools, for both students and teachers.
These pads are handmade by exploited and trafficked women in Kathmandu, to provide them with a fair wage, through the charity WONDERWorks’ Project Dignity. We also work with the schools to deliver education around menstruation and personal hygiene practices to children and their families. By offering this as part of our major school projects over the past year, we have already seen female attendance levels increase.
Recent focus groups also reported a more conducive learning environment and greater dignity and empowerment amongst female students. A 15-year-old student from Shree Buddhi Bikas Secondary School in Myagdi said:
“I am very happy and confident about managing menstrual hygiene. I used to think that I might get skin rashes. I often used to get teased by boys if they saw blood stains in my clothes or on the floor.”
“I used to think menstruation is a shameful thing. But, now I have overcome the fear. It has improved my menstrual hygiene and also minimised economic burden for my parents. Thank you GWT for empowering me and my friends.”
A sample of the students found that all of them had used the sanitary pads provided and found them easy and comfortable. 100% also confirmed that they had been able to attend school during their periods. Teacher Bishnu Kumari Sharma, from Shree Sidhartha Secondary School in Myagdi, reported that:
“Before, students used to skip the classes as they could not come to school due to menstruation periods. Now, all students are regularly attending the class and they can learn equally as boys as they do not have to skip it. This is one of the major improvements as we are giving a learning environment to our students.”
From discomfort to dignity
Last year, we distributed 1,382 sanitary packs among seven schools. This year, we plan to distribute a further 900 packs among the three major schools we are building.
Our Rural Water & Sanitation Programme (RWSP), in partnership with DFID, builds and repairs water systems for remote communities throughout Nepal, bringing clean water directly to people’s doorsteps. Since 1989, around 300,000 people in over 1,400 villages have benefitted. We strongly encourage female involvement in village committees, with an increase in women’s representation within community Water User and Sanitation Committees (WUSCs) from 38% in 2012/13 to 56% in 2018/19. Impressively, 64% of key decision-makers within these groups are now women, and these stats have contributed to our A+ rating from DFID for the latest reporting year – a rating we have achieved in five of the last seven reporting years.
Women and girls are also the prime beneficiaries of these water schemes, with dramatically reduced time spent collecting water of typically 3-4 hours per day per household. We ensure that all households build an individual toilet as part of the agreement we set up with the WUSC, which is of especial importance to women and girls while they are menstruating. Communities are also educated in MHM during the social phase of each project, as part of wider sanitation and hygiene education. An RWSP survey conducted last year found that 77% of female respondents learnt about menstruation from their mothers, showing that community education is just as important as that within schools.
This year, we plan to build and repair 110 water projects, bringing clean water and education in sanitation and MHM to almost 41,000 people in more than 7,000 households.
As part of our Medical Programme, which provides medical care to Gurkha veterans, their dependants and communities, our medical camps offer free gynaecological advice and treatment to Nepali women in remote rural areas. Last year, we also distributed 435 packs of reusable sanitary pads to women and girls attending two camps, who would otherwise have had no means of obtaining adequate protection – providing them with dignity during their periods.