Despite being a biological process, the taboos and shame surrounding menstruation pave way for women and girl’s exclusion from daily activities while also making a negative impact on their dignity.
Similarly, painful period cramps force many menstruators to refrain from educational, employment and social activities, further isolating them.
Lack of proper knowledge surrounding menstrual hygiene, lack of adequate sanitation facilities and poor access to sanitary products can affect adolescent girls’ attendance and performance at school. Most adolescent girls miss their school during their period, which is approximately two months of education in a year.
Likewise, in a country like Nepal, cultural and religious traditions also prevent girls from carrying out daily activities such as bathing or cooking, and some are even banished from their homes during their period as they’re deemed impure.
All these factors contribute to hurting menstruators’ dignity and sense of worth from an impressionable age.
To mitigate stigma surrounding menstruation and its impact on girls’/women’s lives, Nepal government — under the co-ordination of Ministry of Water Supply and involvement of Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women and Ministry of Health — has worked towards drafting the National Dignified Menstruation Policy, 2017 – a policy to support dignified menstruation.
The policy focuses on curbing negative impacts of menstruation-related taboos on women’s lives by providing menstrual health facilities, raising awareness to break misconceptions, and increasing participation of menstruating girls’ in daily activities.
The policy, however, is still in the draft stage for years.
According to Gunaraj Shrestha, National Convener of Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management, the policy has not been finalized because of the constant political changes in the nation.
Shrestha, an expert included in the committee to prepare the policy draft, said, “The policy needs to be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, but the country has been witnessing relentless political instability since 2017. So, it looks like the policy has been sidelined by the political sphere.”
Since the local level governments have a lot more authority now than they had while the policy was drafted, Shrestha believes that there might be some form of implementation challenges in the future.
“Skilled manpower is imperative to instill behavioral changes not only among menstruating girls and women but also among family members as a whole. However, not all local level governments might have that kind of capacity or resources,” he said.
He believes that the first and the most difficult challenge is to aware people about menstrual hygiene and the negative impacts of mestruators’ expulsion from daily activities during their period.
As per a survey related to Menstrual Hygiene Management in Nepal, around 89% menstruating girls and women experience some form of restrictions or exclusion during their period.
Shrestha, nevertheless, is hopeful that the policy will be approved soon and come to implementation.
“Our government has started working towards spreading awareness surrounding menstruation hygiene. Nepal government has allocated a budget NRs 1.5 billion for free-of-cost sanitary pad distribution in public schools. Similarly, the Ministry of Education has also separated some fund to make girls-friendly toilets in all public schools, and the International Menstrual Hygiene Day is marked on a national level on May 28,” said Shrestha.
Meanwhile, the National Dignified Menstruation Policy draft does not include tran women and disabled women.
According to Shrestha, the policy needs to be implemented first and revised so as to include all the aspects that the committee might have missed while preparing the draft.
Even in the urban nooks and crannies, Nepalis still lack awareness regarding dignified mensuration and all the intricate socio-economic correlations it holds within several aspects of the society. Consequently, Nepal so
rely lacks in guidelines, laws, rules and regulations that monitor and regulate dignified mensuration practices.
For instance, the Waste Management Act, 2011 doesn’t talk about proper disposal of sanitary products.
Finalization and implementation of the Dignified Menstruation Policy can help improve girls’ attendance and performance at school, break down taboos and misconceptions around menstruation, raise girls’/women’s self-esteem and enable girls/women to fully as well as actively participate in all aspects of society.
Improving management of menstruation overall will also contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as it is a cross-sectorial issue that cuts across WASH, health, education, environment, business and labor.