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Dignified menstruation in Nepal: Expert explains key issues in 28 points

Photo: Rawpixel/ Freepik

Everyone bleeds, but around half the population in the world bleeds regularly, on a monthly basis. Menstruation is a natural process in which a girl or a woman in her reproductive age bleeds.

An ideal menstrual cycle is of 28 days, but it can also be from 27 to 30 days. Also, depending on the menstruating individual and their body or hormonal (im)balance, it might vary.

A healthy menstrual cycle means the woman is capable of bearing a child. But, when one discusses a healthy menstrual cycle, dignified menstrual practices are a big part of the discussion. For every menstruating individual, dignified menstruation is important.

However, the awareness and discussion around it are minimal. Hence, Onlinekhabar caught up with Radha Paudel, the founder of Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation (GSCDM) and a lead advocate for dignified menstruation practices in Nepal.

Here, she explains key concepts you should know about dignified menstruation in 28 points:

1. Diginified menstruation is not only about the menstruation

Dignified mensuration can be defined as the state of freedom from any form of menstrual discrimination. This includes menstruators being free from stigma, taboos, abuse, and violence associated with menstruation. This needs to be ensured not just within the menstruating period but through the menstruators’ lives, from womb to tomb.

2. There are some important dates to discuss the issue

The International Day for Dignified Mensuration is observed on December 8 whereas the International Menstrual Hygiene Day is celebrated on May 28. As it is also related to women, International Women’s Day on March 8 is also important. Last but not the least, the period from November 25 to December 10 that is celebrated as 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is also important.

3. It is about basic human rights

Dignified mensuration ensures the right to freedom, education, food, health, mobility, housing, dignity and access to menstrual hygiene products. It also advocates and promotes an environment where people get to live without discrimination, violence, biases, prejudices, humiliation or exclusion, despite their caste, social status, and sexual orientation. 

4. Dignity should be the priority

The dignity of the menstruators is the key concern here. Every menstruator should feel respected, and not be oppressed or humiliated in any way, at all times. While the rights given by the constitution and other laws should be ensured, moral values should also be practised in all situations, without excuse.

5. It is also about conscience and responsibility 

Demanding rights and access to menstrual hygiene and necessary products does not mean people forget their responsibility. They need to be conscious about the practice and the product they are using, how their bodies are reacting and more importantly where they dispose of it.

6. Dignified menstruation is from womb to tomb

Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation womb to tomb
Graphic by Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation

Dignified mensuration is crucial and should be regulated from the time of birth to death. This includes discrimination against child-bearers from conception. Dignified mensuration also strongly discourages foeticide (abortion or killing of a foetus in the mother’s womb) based on gender and the preferential (mis)treatment towards a child. 

This also includes freedom from social barriers and rules imposed on women to do or not to do social and religious activities at home and outside. Not only that, but it also looks at the regulations put on women during funeral rites and rituals while performing or otherwise.

7. Education is a must

People still lack a clear awareness regarding what dignified mensuration is and what it entails, along with all the intricate correlations it holds with all aspects of society. There is a lack of efforts from individual and government sides to be aware and make people aware of this. Consequently, Nepal also lacks guidelines, laws, rules and regulations that monitor and regulate dignified mensuration practices.

8. It is not only women’s issue

When one thinks about menstruation, it is often only related to women, which is natural. But dignified menstruation practice is not just about women by birth, but also about transmen and queer communities too. So, the preferred term in related discussions is ‘menstruators’ and not ‘females’ or ‘women’.

9. Choice is crucial

If you are talking about dignified mensuration, you have to ensure menstruators get the choice. This includes knowing the importance of dignified menstrual hygiene practices and the use of menstrual hygiene products. You also need to ensure access to such options and the freedom to use or not to use them.

10. But, sanitary napkins still have 13% VAT

The government and private organisations have taken to advertise and distribute sanitary napkins to girl children, but the sanitary napkins are still charged with 13 per cent VAT. However, there are a few organisations working to eliminate this and campaigns like “RatoKarMaafGar”.

11. Chhaupadi is the biggest evil in Nepal

chhaupadi
File Photo

The lack of education about dignified menstruation practices has given rise to many social evils in the country. One of the prominent social evils is the chhaupadi system, in which menstruators are restricted in a secluded place outside their home, devoid of basic human rights (as mentioned before). Though banned by the Supreme Court in 2005 and criminalised in 2018, it is still practised in some areas of western Nepal.

12. And there are restriction beyond the shed

Those who are not in chhaupadi still face social taboos and exclusions from social and cultural gatherings and premises. Menstrual blood and menstruating people are deemed “impure”, which is why they are restricted from entering religious sites, puja rooms and kitchens within the houses. Some also bar them from seeing mirrors or coming in contact with men.

13. Concealing the matter is sin

Because people do not talk about this properly, citing social and cultural “values”, victims of undignified menstruation practices end up getting scarred for life. Menstruators suffer from this “shame” and then either endure the pain, suffer infections rather than diagnosing them medically. They also throw pads away rampantly, on the roadside or in forests, so that no one sees them. As a result, it pollutes the environment.

14. The lack of dignity in menstruation is a cause for early or child marriage

Another social evil, early or child marriage, is also a byproduct of undignified menstrual practices. As matters of menstruation are kept as a private affair and a taboo, girl children are discouraged to express their opinions and problems. This, with a lack of access and education to dignified menstruation practices, the situation also pushes them towards early or child marriage.

15. Undignified menstrual practices are also a form of gender-based violence

Most kinds of sexual violence and domestic abuse based on gender are the results of a lack of education about dignified menstruation practices. The problem is just not the physical aspect of violence, but the verbal and mental abuse too. 

16. Forced menopause is also a problem

Due to undignified practices, menstruating women are subjected to forced or induced menopause too. Women either surgically (through oophorectomy) remove ovaries or chemically suppress ovulation. Other than health reasons, if a menstruating individual is coerced into getting menopause, that is against the dignified practices.

17. There is a provision of punishment 

If anyone is found guilty of abusing, discriminating, or committing violence associated with menstruation, the law says they are liable to get a jail time of three months, Rs 3,000 or both. The provision was introduced in 2017 with an amendment to The National Penal (Code) Act, 2017 (section 168). But, this largely covers the issues of chhaupadi only.

18. Girls are prone to lose two months worth of education

young girl writing in class
Photo: Unsplash/ Nikhita S

As many girls in rural areas are devoid of access to defined menstrual hygiene products, they are discouraged to go to school. On the other hand, because of the societal taboos and girls being teased and shamed for having periods or period stains, girls prefer to skip school and stay at home. So in a year, they are more likely to lose some two months of education. As a result, they get behind their studies, their schooling is affected, and many other even drop out.

19. Men and boys can play a vital role

A man can help by not sticking to society-framed judgements. He can make women around him comfortable to talk about periods, period pain, gender issues and speaking out against discrimination or biases. The teasing in schools and passing comments over behaviours in personal and professional settings can be eliminated.

20. It needs to be a household topic

Dignified menstruation is not about keeping matters private, even if menstruators are suffering. Such matters need to be spoken and discussed among families and friends, despite their gender or sex. Only when you give women the environment at home, can they excel and feel confident in the outside world.

21. Dignified menstruation is essential for empowerment

Practising dignified menstruation means breaking the stereotypes and changing the gender roles. It promotes equity and equality. It is more than just about giving them the reservation seats like deputy positions given to many women in the local units. Men should step aside and give women the opportunity because they can. 

When it comes to ensuring dignified menstruation, men cannot empower women by being leaders; rather they need to encourage and support them, endlessly. 

22. Menstrual leave is irrelevant if dignified menstruation is not ensured

Many show that they are progressive, respect all genders, and understand menstruators need time-off. As a result, many have given the option for menstrual leave to women too. However, if the office and the staff working there still mistreat menstruators and judge them for bleeding, it is irrelevant. 

23. Pad pollution needs to be avoided

Photo: Pexels/ Polina Zimmerman

Pad pollution is a serious issue as on average, a menstruating individual who uses pads can dispose of about one and a half quintals of pads, in her total menstruating period. As a single pad requires at least 500 to 700 years to decay, one needs to be very conscious about it. Haphazard burning of the pads can also leave an impact on the nearest individual and then the environment.

24. Dignity of labour must be ensured

Disposing of pads haphazardly does not just pollute the environment but also encroaches on the dignity of labour. A dignified practice must ensure that the dignity and rights of those cleaning the environment too.

25. The issue is linked with nine SDGs

Out of the 17 sustainable development goals, the issues of dignified menstruation are linked with nine of them: 1 [1.4], 2 [2.1, 2.2], 3 [3.1, 3.2, 3.7], 4 [4.1, 4.2], 5 [5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.5], 6 [6.1, 6.2], 8 [8.1, 8.5, 8.6, 8.7, 8.8, 8.9], 12 [12.4, 12.5], and 16 [16.1, 16.2].

26. The government has made some efforts, but they haven’t been effective

The government issued the Sanitary Pad Distribution and Management Procedure, 2019, and made efforts to provide free sanitary pads to school girls for free, but that was not implemented well.

27. Some events have also been organised

In December 2018, the MenstruAction conference was held in Kathmandu where stakeholders and advocates came together to discuss the issue. Ministry of Water Supply formed a committee to draft a policy on dignified menstruation in 2017 and organised training on it. Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizen identified Dignified Menstruation Day and made efforts to eliminate menstrual huts or sheds.

28. Yet, the overall response is too little too late

An issue that affects half the population of the world is kept hush in Nepali society. Even after the leap taken into modernisation backed by education, people are not aware of talking about what dignified menstruation is. It has been too late from the public side. But, they can start now.

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