“Our goal is to give women sexual health education and make eco-friendly sanitary pads which are sustainable and hygienic to help them manage their periods; giving women and girls back dignity and freedom.”
Imagine for a week each month you’re cast out of your home and unable to prepare food. This is the reality Nirmala Shrestha is confronted with as part of her menstrual hygiene work.
She is a Girl Scout from Nepal’s Sindhupalchok District and helps to provide education and sanitary supplies to girls and women in remote communities.
Menstrual hygiene is a real barrier for girls, not just in Nepal but in all parts of the world. A lack of knowledge, facilities, sanitary supplies and stigma creates barriers for girls and limits their potential.
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) , the voice of 10 million girls in 150 countries, wants to reduce the shame around periods and barriers faced by girls and young women.
Nirmala is just one Girl Scout or Girl Guide who has identified menstrual hygiene issues within her own community and is working to reduce these. Her home is a hilly, remote area in central Nepal. It backs onto China and was badly affected by the country’s recent earthquakes.
She said there was much mythology around periods which dictated the way women and girls were treated. “When girls are [on their] periods they face different problems,” Nirmala said. “Girl’s aren’t allowed in the kitchen. They are not allowed to touch any fruit or plants.” Not being allowed to step into a kitchen meant many do not eat properly. They might even be expected to sleep alone, often outside their homes, until they finished bleeding. She said many in rural villages, particularly school girls and poor women, also lacked proper toilet facilities and sanitary items.
WAGGGS is calling on all schools, communities and work places to create cultures where there is no shame around menstruation. WAGGGS is also appealing to schools and work places to provide hygienic bathrooms for girls, with clean water and private stalls with lockable doors for privacy and dignity. To ensure girls can access their basic right of educations schools should also provide menstrual products. No girl should be forced to skip class because they can’t afford these items.
Nirmala wants to challenge these barriers by distributing sanitary wear and basic sexual education. She said women often suffer during their periods but wanted to help them feel free. “Our goal is to give women sexual health education and make eco-friendly sanitary pads which are sustainable and hygienic to help them manage their periods; giving women and girls back dignity and freedom.”
She also helps to run a public health education programme which aims to challenge negative attitudes around menstruation.
Unicef’s director of global innovation Cynthia McCaffrey said U-Report reaches five million young people in 41 countries. “Forty per cent of girls and young women on the platform regularly highlight issues and receive information about menstrual hygiene.” “U-Report helps to bridge the gap between research and practice by bringing together the voices of girls who want to take real action and break the silence around menstruation," she said.