On Tuesday, Namita Poudel shared on her Facebook profile four pictures of her daughter Sharon Bhurel celebrating her first period with the caption “I am not against traditions, but I am definitely against the bad ones”. It was obviously an unusual happening in Nepal.
As menstruation is still considered taboo in Nepal, celebrating the first period is something that people cannot imagine practising. After all, menstruation has been a cause of violence for many women in Nepal as they have been forced to stay in secluded houses (chhaugoths) in an inhumane way although the practice has already been criminalised.
Poudel’s Facebook post that appeared two days before the beginning of the 16 days of Activism against Gender-based Violence has been shared by thousands and received overwhelming praise and support as it has started a new trend in the overtly patriarchal Nepali society.
Celebrating the transition
After Sharon Bhurtel already left for school on Tuesday morning, her mother Namita got to see the bloodstains on her daughter’s underclothes while doing laundry. She then immediately called her school Principal and said, “I think she is menstruating for the first time. Please ask her once.”
“Then, my coordinator ma’am, Minu Subedi, came to me and asked if I was menstruating. I kind of got shocked as I didn’t know if I was at that time,” Sharon says, “Hence, I said ‘No’. Then, she asked me to go to the bathroom and check it once. I did accordingly and I found that I am on my first period.”
She then shared it with her coordinator, who provided her with sanitary pads and all the necessary support.
Minu says, “Then, we communicated with her parents and they came here to take Sharon home.”
Soon after reaching home, Namita told her daughter she wanted to celebrate the day and asked her to make tea for all of them (because she wanted to resist the tradition that menstruation girls and women are barred from the kitchen). “I tried to convince her that she is neither untouchable nor impure just because she is menstruating. She is free to go anywhere in the home and outside, and touch anything,” expresses Namita, “Our home is not like the society you have seen outside.”
“She was very happy experiencing all this.”
Namita, who had once seen a TikTok video celebrating the first period (outside Nepal), shares that the video actually gave her this idea of celebrating. “We want to make her feel proud of bleeding. And, we had already discussed and decided we would celebrate our daughter’s first period whenever it happens,” says Subas.
Change begins at home
As a sociology lecturer, Namita mostly stays outside the home in the mornings and evenings. And, every day, her husband, Subas, takes care of both their daughter and son, makes them ready for school, sends them school, and receives them, according to Namita.
“Therefore, my children are very close and comfortable with him. Simultaneously, my husband and I keep counselling our daughter about menstruation saying it is just a normal process, you don’t have to worry about it,” says Namita.
Subas opens up that his family was never gender-biased since his grandfather’s time (who is now 110 years old). He says, “My grandfather, my father and my uncles used to get involved in household chores equally, and that quality naturally got passed on to me.”
Namita agrees and shares, “My husband’s family is very liberal. They never made me follow any such taboos and also encouraged me to study further.”
However, Namita did not experience what she is letting her daughter live.
“I grew up with a mindset similar to my society. Even if I had mistakenly placed half my feet inside the kitchen area during my period, I would think I had committed a sin and I would get punished. But, gradually, I found that it is nothing like that, thanks to my studies,” she continues, “In fact, it is a matter of pride as it prepares women for giving birth to a life on earth. Therefore, I had decided very early on that I will never impose any kind of restrictions on my daughter.”
Rather than reinforcing such taboos and restrictions, one should prioritise maintaining proper menstrual hygiene, taking care of her diet and supporting her, believe both Namita and Subas.
A call for social change
But, how comfortable is older generations with this change?
As shared by Namita, her mother lives in the same house but has a separate kitchen. “She was of course not as okay as we all are, she was a little hesitant at first. However, she could not say anything, after all, Sharon is my daughter and the decision of what she can/can’t do is up to me and my husband.”
Sharon says she is aware of the menstrual taboos that are still prevalent in society. While watching videos on social media platforms like Youtube and TikTok about menstruation, she shares she was very clear that it is just a natural process that happens to every girl, and hence, there is no shame about it.
“However, sometimes, I also doubted whether I should follow such taboos. Luckily, my parents and schools cleared every single doubt about menstruation by providing me with correct and necessary information,” says Sharon.
As the post about Sharon celebrating her first period is gathering so much support on social media platforms, Subas expresses, “We are overwhelmed with the positive response we received. We are hopeful that it will contribute towards making a greater impact/social change in society regarding menstruation and related taboos.”
Adding to this, a happy Sharon says, “I am getting all the facilities; neither my daily routine has been disturbed. My school family is also taking very good care of me. They keep asking me if I am feeling okay and provide me hot water to drink time and again. I feel blessed and happy to get such support and care from my family, and school family.”