“How do I hide it from everyone?” The first thoughts hit my mind as I saw red patches of blood in my underwear. “Surely, if I don’t tell anyone, it will just go away!”
Over the past few years, women in my family and neighborhood had warned me that I might start “it” anytime soon. However, they swiftly changed topics and never went into the details of what “it” really meant or what I was supposed to do when “it” happened. When “it” finally happened, I thought the best way to handle it was to try and escape from it.
On the third day as my maternal grandmother found out from the stains in my jeans, I was immediately put in an isolated room. “Make sure you do not see any males, even by accident” she repeated herself many times a day. Don’t go outside the room except to use the bathroom, don’t touch the plants, don’t see the sun, the list of restrictions continued. “Why so, grandma?” I would ask, questioning the absurdity of the ritual.
“Don’t ask any questions, do what you’re told.” My grandma would shush me with a sullen face.
Going through lack of guidance before and during my first menstruation instilled in me a yearning to reach out for younger girls so that they wouldn’t have to go through the similar experience like mine. With an objective of opening up conversations and increasing awareness about puberty and menstruation, I, with four of my friends, in the first year of University, organized a project, “An intervention to improve menstrual hygiene in Lamjung, Nepal” in a government school in the rural village of Lamjung in western Nepal.
“What do you know about menstruation?” It was one of our questions included in a pre survey.
“It is a time when girls have to stay inside their homes for 5 days” The answer by a 14 year old boy screamed that the battle against menstrual taboos should equally involve men. As important stakeholders, men’s participation is crucial not only for eradication of the taboo, but also for wider influence, awareness and education on the matter.
For that reason, we held awareness workshops on issues like puberty changes, reproductive health and hygiene, with the participation of 150 students,both boys and girls, aged 12 to 16. We also held focus group discussions with girls and their mothers, with a goal to initiate open and honest dialogues between family members and community groups. As a group, we shared about our menstrual experiences, pondered upon that cultural restrictions regarding menstruation in our ethnicities, discussed ways of how we can break away from such barriers in our own ways, and vowed to practice better reproductive hygiene. Not only that, we taught women to make homemade sanitary pads, prompting them to move away from their traditional practice of using rags.
I will never mock a girl when she is on her period.
I will start taking about menstruation with my daughter.
I will not hesitate to buy sanitary pads from the shop.
As I heard such remarks from the participants at the end of our intervention, I was filled with hope that my efforts were possibly able to create a change in people’s perception or behavior regarding menstruation.
Being from a country where many women still lose their lives during menstruation due to unhygienic practices or uneducation, I take it as my responsibility to work towards normalizing menstruation as a biological process. Be it through open conversations with my siblings and family members, or through active campaigning, my attempts to make a difference continue every day. In a culture that judges you on how ‘good’ of a person you are based on how strictly you follow the rituals, it might be a long time before the cultural restrictions regarding menstruation are completely eradicated. However, with enough actions and conviction from individuals, awareness and involvement of both sexes in breaking the ice through the taboo subject, we can reach a point where we begin to shape the culture instead of being a part of it. Until then, I want to prepare as many girls as I can with enough awareness and direction, so that when they see blood in their underwear for the first time, they can confidently say to themselves, “I am ready for this.”