Education and sanitary pads: Providing dignity and health to girls and women
In rural Nepal, which is mainly Hindu (80% of the population of Nepal is Hindu), girls and women are disadvantaged in various ways. One of the main reasons for this is the taboo against menstrual blood. It prevents menstruation from being seen as a natural process. Due to ignorance and superstition, girls are often struck by panic and fear when they experience their first menstruation. They do not know what is happening to them. They are told that menstruation is a sign of sin, the anger of the Gods, etc. During their period they are not allowed to use public sources of water or to touch cows, men, boys or traditional healers.
In many parts of western Nepal, girls and women have to spend 4-7 days isolated from their homes in small, unhygienic and unheated huts during their menses. This tradition, called Chhaupadi (read more), is forbidden by law, but it is still very widespread. During the day they usually have to engage in hard, physical labor. They only get rice, salt and some dry cereals to eat. Due to the taboo against blood, many women have to give birth to their children in these huts under highly unsanitary conditions.
This tradition leads to a high incidence of gynecological illnesses and keeps the schoolgirls away from schools, so that they often cannot complete their studies. This is one of the reasons why more than 40% of women are analphabetic. The corresponding figure for men is 25%.
Overall, women in the villages have little access to hygienic pads. They make do with unhygienic pieces of cloth, which often leads to infections. Experts estimate that in many poor countries ignorance and poor hygiene are responsible for two thirds of all diseases related to reproduction organs, among them cervical cancer. (More)
Education about menstruation
In cooperation with the NHEICC (National Health Education, Information and Communication Center), a part of the Ministry of Health and Population, HEAR Nepal has edited an easy to read booklet (entitled “Kishoree” = “Puberty”) and has translated it from English into Nepali. This booklet deals with the topics of puberty, menstruation and menstrual hygiene, gender equality, prejudices and sexual harassment.
The brochure will be printed and distributed to all schoolgirls in Bajhang between the age of 10 and 14, to prepare them for their first menstruation. Based on the booklet, a nurse from HEAR Nepal will teach the girls of every corresponding class about the menstrual cycle. They will also learn about nutrition, gender equality, sexual harassment and early marriage. While the girls are being taught, the boys will learn about their own bodily and emotional changes during puberty and will also get basic information about menstruation. Harassing girls and teasing them about their menstruation will also be discussed and discouraged.
In the name of gender equality, we also felt we needed a similar course for schoolboys. They could be trained at the same time as the girls. We searched for a sister publication to Kishoree and after a long odyssey found one in the form of Kishor, which means puberty (boys). Through Kishor, the boys will learn about their own bodily and emotional changes during puberty and will also get basic information about menstruation. Harassing girls and teasing them about their menstruation will also be discussed and discouraged. We have edited this booklet slightly, and have had it translated into Nepali. Once approved by the authorities, two male health workers will be employed to teach the boys at the same time as the girls are being taught.
Especially in rural areas, women have a hard time caring for their menstrual hygiene in a healthy way. Normal sanitary pads, as we use them in the west, are usually either unknown or unaffordable. In schools there are usually no separate toilets for girls and no dustbins for sanitary pads. When there is access to such disposable pads, they consist of 90% plastic and are often burned, leading to air pollution. Or else they land in the river and end up in the ocean.
Our research led us to washable, biodegradable pads from the Indian NGO Baala, that are absolutely leakproof, have a lifetime of 1 ½ to 2 years and cost less than a third of the price of disposable pads. These pads were tested for several months by a representative group of women in Bajhang and the feedback was altogether positive. Initially, we plan to distribute 3,000 packages with 3 pads each to schoolgirls and their mothers. Once these initial donated pads have been used, the packages of 3 pads will be for sale at the cost price of approximately € 2.40 (or $ 2.65). The women all assured us that the price would only be a problem for the poorest of the poor. For them we will work to find a solution. As an aside, according to our research, for cultural and hygienic reasons, menstrual cups and tampons are unfortunately not a good option.
Example: For €15 ($ 16,50) the schoolgirls receive the booklet “Kishoree” in conjunction with two hours of instruction about puberty and menstruation and a package with three washable, biodegradable sanitary pads. Their mothers also receive a package with pads and are informed about their use and about the menstrual cycle. Donate