Nepalese girls take photos of all the things they can't touch during their periods due to menstrual taboos

Stigma around menstruation in rural Nepal can result in poor-health and lack of education for women, but 7 girls from Sindhuli have fought back - with photography

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The Independent Online

Teenage Nepalese girls from Sindhuli, 130 kilometres southeast from Kathmandu, took pictures to document the restrictions imposed upon them during their periods as part of a campaign by charity WaterAid, challenging taboos and improving female sanitation.

Every month in Nepal, the girls are separated from their families, forbidden from looking at the sun, touching fruit and flowers and even staying in their own homes.  In Nepal girls during their periods are considered to be ‘impure’ or ‘contaminated’. 

The tradition is called Chhaupadi, popular in  western-nepalese hindu communities, it is common for girls to remain excluded from interaction with the family for up to 6-10 days, childbirth can also result in a 10 day exclusion. 

It comes from a superstition of impurity, with the logic that if women touches things it will pass on that impurity and provide bad-luck or illness.  Women are barred from consuming meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables through the fear that their menstruation will ruin the produce.

Instead they are forced to live off rice, salt and dry foods.  This is an imputation that can be detrimental to girls education, mental/physical health and role in the community. Chhaupadi was outlawed by the Supreme Court of Nepal in 2005, however it is still commonplace in rural communities.

Manisha, 14, who took part in the project explained the limitations put on her during her when she began her first period: “I stayed at someone else’s house during my first period. I wasn’t allowed to go to school and, on top of that, I wasn’t allowed to even read a book. It was a wrong belief that we shouldn’t study during menstruation” 

What if men had periods?

The girls, who had never used a camera before, were given the opportunity to exhibit their work in the community, to their friends and family in order to facilitate discussion around menstrual taboos.  Giving girls a voice in a country where 58% of women are illiterate. 

Barbara Frost, WaterAid’s chief executive shared the charities motivations to conduct the project:  “The silence and stigma that surround menstruation impinges on girls’ everyday lives. Furthermore, when there are no safe, private toilets in schools, girls often skip school during their period, or drop out of school altogether once they reach adolescence. With nowhere hygienic to clean sanitary pads or wash, women and girls also risk infection”

“Being able to deal with periods in a hygienic and dignified way is crucial to women’s wellbeing. It helps women feel that they are able to play a full role in society, no matter what time of the month."

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Sushma Diyali,15: "This is the picture of mirror and comb that I use at my house. In our society, when girls experience their first menstruation we are not allowed to look into mirrors or comb our hair.Me and my family do not follow such practice.  I think mirrors and combs are the means of cleanliness and as a human it’s very important that you should stay clean and healthy. Only if my friends just like me could grow in an environment where are no limitations regarding menstruation and receive more support from the families, they can set themselves free and explore greater potential and opportunities around them is what I think." (WaterAid)
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Sushma Diyali,15,: "This is the girl’s toilet of our school. We are in urgent need of MHM friendly toilet. The one we use doesn’t lock properly. If someone is inside, other person has to wait outside pushing the door for her. Because of lack of latrines in our school, we have to wait in the long line. This is very problematic for us and we are need of more girls’ friendly latrines." (WaterAid)
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Manisha Karki, 15: "This is the picture of the stream where I bath and clean my pads. In this picture there is a stack of pads that I use and I clicked this picture sometime before I started washing them. During our menstrual cycle it’s very embarrassing for us to wash our used pads out in the public place hence, we find nearest corners and isolated streams to clean our pads and wash ourselves." (WaterAid)
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Rabina Budhathoki, 15: "I had gone to collect grass and firewood when I had my first menstruation. I clicked this picture to recollect that particular memory of mine. I never knew menstruation was about bleeding. So, when I started bleeding for the first time I got very scared and terrified. There was no one to help me out, I didn’t know how to use pads and I had hard time coping up with the changes I had within me. That’s why I try to help younger girls who seem as confused as me when I had my first menstruation. I tell them to focus on cleanliness and hygiene" (WaterAid)
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Bandana Khadka,15: "This is the scene I wake up to every morning when I face towards the eastern side. This picture reflects the hills and peaks along with the beautiful sunrise that is visible from my home. It feels really good to get soaked in the morning sun. When I had my first menstruation, I was not allowed to look into the sun directly. But regardless of that I still looked at it and nothing happened to me. While studying our teacher taught us that there is something called sunshine vitamin which is vitamin-D and we get that from sun rays. After I got to know that, I realized we shouldn’t be kept locked inside our rooms during our first menstruation." (WaterAid)
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Bandana Khadka, 15:  "This is my mother and sister in the picture. Here, my mother is feeding my sister with so much of love. Mother loves me very much as well. However, during my menstruation cycle I am kept separately and have to eat at distance. When nobody touches me, I feel unloved. We need lots of love and support during our menstruation but, when I am separated and treated like an untouchable I feel no love from my mother and father and I feel only hatred. I feel sad being treated that way." (WaterAid)
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 Bisheshta Bhandari, 15: "The place featured in the picture is the place where I used to wash myself during my first menstruation. My sister Shristi is washing her face in this picture. When I had my first menstruation, I stayed at another's house, as we were not allowed to stay in our own house. The house where I stayed during my first menstruation is 15 minutes away from my own house. We teenage girls are more secure with our own parents, be it during menstruation or not. Moreover during menstruation, we need extra care and support from our parents. When we have to stay out of home in some other house for seven days, we may not be secure. Therefore any adolescent girls need to stay with their parents to be safe and secure. (WaterAid)
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 Sabina Gautam,15: In this photo my mom is cutting papaya. In our community, there is a belief that during menstruation we should not eat papaya but I like papaya very much. Even if I want I cannot eat papaya during my periods. Papaya is a nutritious fruit. During menstruation, we are told not only not to eat papaya but also we are told not to touch papaya tree is a common belief. Actually during menstruation, the adolescent girls should eat even more fruits and vegetable to keep the body strong and healthy (WaterAid)

 

28th May is International Menstrual Hygiene day, which aims to challenge stigma around periods across the globe and raise awareness for menstrual hygiene. This project was part of a Uk aid programme WaterAid are running across Nepal, to improve girls' ability to manage their periods. For more information visit: www.wateraid.org 

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