KATHMANDU, Oct 28: Though most urban Nepali women have busted the glass ceiling, those in the rural areas continue to be the victims of several forms of superstitions. One among them is concerned with the menstruation cycle, during which they are virtually treated as untouchables.
Researches have proved that girls who have reached puberty constitute a vulnerable group, particularly in the rural backwaters and treated as unclean and impure. The treatment they are meted out results in adverse health outcomes. This is also one of the reasons of growing absenteeism among schoolgirls.
Social Development Advisor of Water Aid Nepal Om Prasad Gautam says, “Menstrual hygiene is neglected and people do not wish to explore this subject as it is still considered a social taboo.”
But, the effects of this ignorance basically on young schoolgirls, who have been victims of absenteeism, seclusion and bad health, must not be overlooked. Hygienic practices during menstruation are of considerable importance as it has health impacts in terms of increased vulnerability to various infections.
Moreover, hygiene is neglected by girls, especially in the rural areas, due to lack of availability and inability to afford sanitary napkins. In a study conducted by Water Aid Nepal in four schools of Nepal, it was observed that the use of sanitary pads is higher among girls in urban schools (50%) in comparison to rural (19%), which clearly mentions that family income affects the use of sanitary napkins.
School girls also refrain from going to toilets due to problems of lock, lack of water and disposal facility. They are also seen to avoid going to toilets during menstruation as most schools do not have separate latrines for girls. According to Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES), only 41% of schools in Nepal have latrine facility with only 26% of schools having separate latrine for girls.
Menstruation is the major contributing factor in absenteeism and poor academic performance among schoolgirls. Girls often remain absent and drop out of schools because of bad sanitation facilities in schools. In Water Aid´s study, some girls ailed by constant worries, though physically present in the school, were seen to be performing poorly.
“Many girls remain absent for 4 days a month during their menstruation cycle,” Anita Pradhan, Documentation Manager of Water Aid Nepal said, adding, “Remaining absent in school for 48 days a year is a huge loss for students.”
According to a survey conducted by Nepal Water for Health (NEWAH) in 7 schools, 94 percent girls went to school but 6 percent remained absent during their menstruation period.
Furthermore, religious and cultural taboos concerning menstruating girls have prevented women from being independent actors. Gautam says he was surprised to find that the girls were asked to not touch water, touch food in the kitchen and not walk through the road near a temple by their mothers.
A girl from Kathmandu shared that her family didn´t celebrate Dashain and Tihar after she saw mirror during her menstruation period. “I was told that seeing mirror during menstruation period would bring bad luck.”
Menstrual hygiene has thus a vital aspect of health education and television programs, health officers, teachers and parents can play a very important role in transmitting a message of proper menstrual hygiene. This would save them from many health hazards. Currently, organizations like NEWAH, Lumanti and ENPHO have been working to bring about changes in this sector by spreading awareness on menstruation hygiene.