Cast aside Fear and Discrimination: Nepali Girls Step out of Menstrual Huts and Embrace the Future of Equality

The abandoned and gloomy hut was a nightmare for Manika, a 14-year-old girl from Nepal. Menstruation is a natural process for females every month; however, to girls living in rural Nepal, menstruation symbolises fear as they have to be isolated in horrifying menstrual huts called “Chhaupadi” every time they are on their period.

“Every night I was scared that I could make it to the morning. If I was not careful, I could be bitten by a poisonous snake or insect or be raped by a drunk man outside.” Manika could hardly fall asleep on the floor of the bare and shabby hut with no windows or doors.

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The menstrual huts are usually far away from the girls’ homes, and there are no windows, doors, or equipment to keep warm. It is not easy for girls to seek help when they are in danger and some girls lost their lives because of hypothermia and animal attacks.

Girls cannot even stand up in the tiny huts. It is difficult to imagine how hard it is for girls to stay inside for several days each month.

The Stigma of Menstruation Contributes to Females’ Low Social Status

In Nepal, due to traditional beliefs, menstruation is considered “unclean” and offensive to their gods which will bring people bad luck. Therefore, Nepali are scared and disgusted by the concept of menstruation and they discriminate against females who are on their period by sending them to the menstrual huts. The girls were not allowed to get in touch with the male members of their family, touch their precious water sources or consume milk-related food as it will be a curse and kill their livestock.

The stigma of menstruation has further dragged down the social status of females in the patriarchal culture. As menstruation is a forbidden topic, girls cannot seek help or raise any questions even if they encountered menstrual issues and schools refuse to provide reproductive health education to girls. Girls, therefore, lack menstrual health and general health care knowledge.

Nepali believes if a girl on her period touches the water source, her family will be cursed by the Gods. Therefore, girls have to stay away from freshwater sources.

Poverty and COVID-19 Worsened Menstrual Problems

Girls are already suffering from menstruation taboos and shaming but they still have to face the problem of “menstrual poverty”. In Nepal, sanitary pads are expensive. It costs HK$13 for five pieces of better quality pads. A regular menstrual cycle will need around 3 packs of pads and the cost is equivalent to the daily income of a local poor household (around HK$39).

Although the local government has started to address girls’ menstrual needs by distributing free pads at schools, however, due to school suspension during COVID-19, girls are once again cut off from the supply of sanitary pads. Simultaneously, the price of sanitary pads continues to escalate because of lockdowns and delays in shipping. How can underprivileged girls cope with the situation?

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Education Has to Go with Materialistic Support

To put an end to “period shaming” and “period poverty”, Plan International set up menstrual-friendly rooms at local schools for girls to take a break, learn about menstruation and get free sanitary products. Workshops are also arranged to teach girls to make reusable sanitary pads and raise their awareness about menstruation and girls’ rights.

Plan International believes that providing materialistic assistance cannot fully solve the problems.  We must educate girls, boys, parents, and everyone in the community to remove the stigma of menstruation so that girls can be treated fairly and friendly and discrimination can be eliminated.

Under the influence of Plan International’s menstrual education, girls can now openly discuss and share menstrual issues among their peers.

Break the Shackles: A Girl who Changed the Community Culture

Education can make an impact! Pratika, another 14-year-old girl from remote Nepal acquired the skills to make reusable pads from Plan International’s workshop last year and she learned that the treatment of girls on their period is unfair. She was determined to change the culture in her community starting with the people around her.

Pratika broke the silence and raised the “forbidden” topic of menstruation to her friends and families. She taught her friends to make reusable pads and suggest her father abolish the use of menstrual huts. Her father’s reaction surprised her! Once Pratika’s father realised his labels on menstruation had made her daughter suffer from fear and discomfort, he immediately stopped using the menstrual huts and he was even asked to join the school committee to share his learnings with the school and other parents.

Now, Pratika’s father has already made an influence in the community. Many parents have agreed to transform the menstrual huts into livestock sheds. Even though some parents still require their daughters to live in a separate room, it is a big step forward in eliminating “period shaming”!

We cannot completely overturn the culture in a moment or two, but we can bring changes via education in the long run. Pratika’s determination has created a new menstrual culture in her community! Plan International hopes the public can join us in providing menstrual support and education in Nepal to help more girls get rid of the stigma of menstruation so that they can walk out of the menstrual huts and step towards a brighter future.

Take action now by supporting Plan International’s Girls Fund!

Donate to Girls Fund for a year, you can help…

  • Support girls to get access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, including inclusive toilets and hand washing facilities to safeguard their health and hygiene at all times
  • Support girls to get access to menstrual hygiene management facilities and sanitary pads, and also use improved toilets with soap and water, so that they can handle menstrual waste properly at school
  • Set up and provide hygiene management training for 48 school management committees and student cabinets
  • Set up an adolescent and hygiene corner at schools for girls to take a break, learn about menstruation and get free sanitary products, to educate and raise their awareness on menstruation and girls’ rights

Let’s create a carefree period together!

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(Promotion period til June 30, 2022)

Manika still remembers her fear of being trapped in her menstrual hut. She thanks Plan International for the community education that brought her out of her hut. The menstrual hut is now used to raise goats.

Pratika is happy to see her influence on her peers.

Girls have learnt to make reusable pads at home so that they no longer have to rely on expensive disposal pads and can relieve their families’ financial burden.