May 28 2020

The end of a period : deconstructing menstruation taboos

On this International Menstrual Hygiene Day, Karuna-Shechen reaffirms its commitment empowering women in India and Nepal so that they have access to a better life.

The menstrual cycle – a natural but little-known phenomenon

Menstruation remains a great taboo in Indian and Nepalese culture, even among women, and this embarrassment leads to a large ignorance of their own bodies. A study by the Water Supply and Sanitation Council (WSSC) revealed that 73,6% Of the women when they get asked within the study believe that menstrual blood is dirty and according to the documentary report “Period. End of sentence”, less than 10% of women use adapted sanitary napkins.

Although banned in India and Nepal the Hindu practice of chhaupadi – the forced exile of women, their ban from worship places and being called impure when they menstruate – is still widespread in rural communities where Karuna-Shechen is active. Every year, women die from this exile because of the very precarious conditions to which they are subjected.

Shalav Rana, our country director in Nepal, says: Our program ries to create awareness of this, about the law, and give confidence to the girls that it is vital and organic process of the body, and nothing to be ashamed or shy about.”

The shame due to stigmatisation results in women not attending classes out of fear that they will be noticed when changing their pads. They sometimes don’t want to buy sanitary protection when men are around or because of lack of means.

By acknowledging this alarming situation and within the framework of our programmes for women empowerment, Karuna-Shechen takes action to reduce the suffering caused by bad practices.

A stigma that impacts women’s health and education

Ignorance of this phenomenon leads to unhealthy practices, such as the use of fabrics that are not sterilized or even clean as protection. A 2014 BBC article reveals that 70% of diseases affecting the female reproductive system are caused by poor personal hygiene.. Because of the taboo, young women are not aware of the existence of protections that would allow them to go outside their homes and guarantee them adequate hygiene during their menstruation.

Karuna-Shechen’s health and feminine hygiene programme is designed to address these issues. The objective is education: we want women to become aware of what is happening in their bodies in order to be able to get out of the circle of shame and taboo.

Knowledge is the first step towards awareness-raising and action : since 2016 we have trained more than 70,000 women in feminine hygiene. Young women learn practices that can protect them from the dangers of poor hygiene. Among these dangers is the prolapse of the pelvic organs, caused by bad postpartum practices. In Nepal it is estimated that 25% of women suffer from this unknowingly. By 2020, this program will benefit 20,000 young women in Nepal!

Our actions also aim at slowing down school dropout numbers for young girls: out of fear of being noticed, many miss school at least a week in a month, and end up quitting because they cannot catch up. In order to limit this phenomenon in our intervention areas, we equipped some schools with separate toilets and clear water systems. That way, young girls can change without leaving school, which allows them to continue studying and remain discreet.

Providing access to appropriate protection and infrastructure and continuing to inform women is another step towards making a difference.

To back up prevention, we need to take action

Enabling a group of women to learn about the topic gives them the opportunity to explain to other women how and why this happens, and prevent the danger on a larger scale. Cooperation is the backbone of our projects!

We provide a solution adapted to women’s situation : disposable sanitary napkins during mass distributions and reusable pads for young women who prefer them and who can follow a sanitary advice course related to these cloth napkins. Shamsul Akthar, our programme manager in India, explains: 

We distribute high-quality disposable pads to the communities in which we operate. Since 2020, we are also distributing reusable napkins that are more eco-friendly and we provide training to the women who choose them so that they respect the hygienic rules related to the use of these napkins”.

In 2019 we distributed 188,119 disposable towels. These allow them to change discreetly, even outside their home. Protections like these are expensive: in India a single pad costs an average of 12 rupees, or €0.15, when the average salary is €220 per month. Moreover, in this period of lockdown in India, we organized sanitary napkins’ distributions since access to menstrual hygiene products is difficult, as they are not considered a basic necessity.

Improving women’s menstrual hygiene and lifting taboos means giving them the opportunity to go back to school, improve their health, reintegrate them into the heart of society and put an end to a form of isolation. Supporting this project means changing the lives of all these women.

 

 

“We offer women a place of fulfillment and pride, but above all a place at the heart of society; the opportunity to become a vector of change at the family, community and societal levels. Our projects have a direct positive impact and also contribute to changing mentalities. Together with women, we break taboos and the cycle of poverty. Women become role models for the new generations”
–  
Matthieu Ricard – Blog article, Time to enter the age of women