Changing the Stigma of Menstruation

A Light of Hope for Women

The rigorous effort of non-governmental organisations and the enthusiastic local government are slowly bringing some positive message to those women who have been facing the ‘brunt’ of the menstrual stigma. A small village in the Gauri Ganga municipality in the plains of far west Nepal could be an example to cheer.

Ishwar Rauniyar

On my recent visit to the Gauriganga Municipality of the Kailali district in the plains of far west Nepal, I was surprised to learn that more than 50% of the Chhau Sheds were destroyed by the people themselves ending the long ‘practice’ of banishing their girls during menstruation period.

Lila Bhul expressed her happiness that she no more lives in the Chhau shed. Chhau shed is a ‘hut’ where the women are forced to live during their ‘periods’.

©Ishwar Rauniyar

Lila Bhul is happy. Her family tore down the menstruation hut and she can now sleep in the house during her period without fear of snakes and strangers.

“I can now sleep well – as I am no more sleeping in the Chhau Shed,” she says.

“It gives a very good feeling and the fear of snake or someone entering the Shed forcefully is no more an issue now.”

It’s just been six months she got a chance to enter the house during periods.

Through the organization Dalit Women Rights Forum, DCA’s local partner, communities were sensitized about the menstrual ‘stigma’.

Menstruation is not impure

“Because of the trainings, we became more aware and also understood that menstruation was not a bad thing,” says Lila. “We should remove the misconception that it was impure.”

"Chaupadi is such a malpractice that still exists in Nepal that violated women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights. Dismantlement Chau sheds are one way of expressing their anger against such practice and saying NO MORE VIOLENCE on our sexual and reproductive health rights,” says Malati Maskey, Programme Manager – Active Citizenship of DCA Nepal. 

It’s a big step towards eliminating such practices and demanding for sexual and reproductive health rights." Out of 85 households, 35 households have destroyed their Chhau Huts, letting their girls stay at home during the menstruation period.

©Ishwar Rauniyar
In Gauriganga Municipality in the far west of Nepal 35 out of 85 households have torn down their menstruation huts. In this picture it is still standing (to the right).

However, these girls are still not allowed to enter the kitchen and touch water taps during periods. “I think allowing us to enter the house itself is a ‘BIG’ step and we are hoping that the perception will change in a couple of years,” Lila says.

Lila’s neighbor Dipa Sarki – in her fifties is also happy after she dismantle her Chhau Shed.

“We are now happy. I have daughters, daughter-in laws. I’m already old, but, I always felt afraid when I had to keep them outside,” Dipa Says.

Her husband Sarbhan Sarki is also against the ‘stigma’ however, he says things don’t change at once it will change slowly.

“Slowly, slowly they will also be allowed in the kitchens. If not now – but definitely sometime in the future,” Sarbhan says.

“We cannot go against the society at once – but I am hopeful things will change very soon.”

Struggling Sangita

For Sangita Bhul the situation hasn’t changed yet. She is still forced to live in the Chhau Shed during periods. Sangita who has just appeared in class 10 exam, has been trying to convince her family to let her in during menstruation, however, her family members haven’t allowed yet.

©Ishwar Rauniyar

Sanghita Buhl still has to stay in her family's menstruation hut. She does not sleep the four days a month she has to spend in the hut. Especially during the rainy season she is afraid of snakes.

“I don’t feel good when I have to stay in a hut,” says Sangita. “But because of my family who believe in the concept of impurity, we are compelled to stay outside.”

She added that it’s very scary ‘especially when it’s rainy season as the water level increases like an ocean tide and also need to be afraid of snakes’.

“Once when my sister-in-law and mother were staying at the Chau hut, they found a snake,” she says, “However, we have to follow the rules of our household.”

The four nights are very painful, according to her, she couldn’t ‘sleep’ during her periods.

Her mother Dhankala Bhul – shows some empathy towards her daughter and says things will change. “We have to pull down the sheds. Especially the sheds we have built in our hearts,” Dhankala says.

Her husband listening to her though is not happy and repeatedly tries to influence his wife threatening ‘you will have to be responsible if your daughter had to go through some ‘bad things’.

Committed Local Government

Binod Kumar Chaudhary – Ward Chairman of 11 number ward in Gauriganga Municipality is working day and night to declare his ward ‘Chhaupadi Free’ within this year.

“Until last year, the situation here was very bad. But since October last year, we’ve been organizing various interactions and events along with the support from DCA and campaigning about the ‘misconception’ of menstruation,” says Chaudhary. “The situation has improved to some extent. A lot of people are breaking down sheds.”

The ward office is planning to launch a ban on services provided by the ward office if any of the household is found having Chhau huts and child marriage.

“In the first stage, we will explain to the individual about the wrongs of Chaupadi practice. If they still don’t understand, we will impose a ban on the government facilities,” he says.

The ward office has already started practicing this system especially for trainings provided by ward offices. The applicant will now have to show that they do not have Chhau huts at their homes and are allowing their girls to live inside the house during periods.

“Through our campaign, we are aiming to eradicate the practice within this year,” he says.

#MHDay2019 #It’sTimeforAction

In Nepal, for many girls, periods mean missing school days. One of the reasons is lack of access to better and cheaper sanitary pads.

DCA has been working on breaking the stigma of menstruation and have also been supporting communities to make ‘hand made’ sanitary pads.

Bibek Balla, Hygiene Promotion Officer of the project recalled how he was called ‘the pad man’ when he was telling stories of ‘sanitary pad’ in Dhading and Gorkha districts.  

DCA through its DFID funded WASH Recovery Project promoted making of sanitary pads using locally available materials. Not just the women, even boys in the community came together for this cause. It is very inspiring to see men coming to the forefront breaking away from taboos and discussing openly about menstrual hygiene management.

We have been focusing on menstrual hygiene management in the communities and the schools. But this has not yet addressed all issues. For many girls, periods mean missing school days. One of the reasons is lack of access to better and cheaper sanitary pads.  Teachers say the girl simply runs away if she ‘bleeds’ when in school.