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NEPAL: The Men in My Family Taught Me About Menstruation

Anoushka Pandey
Posted May 23, 2017 from Nepal

Her homeland is known for practices that stigmatize and even isolate women during menstruation. But in Anoushka's family, her periods were celebrated and honored.

“I still remember the smile and relief my grandfather had when he looked at me that day.

When I was born, the nurses at the big community hospital in Kathmandu were more disappointed in my gender than any of my family members.

The first words the nurse said after she handed me to my grandfather were, “Maybe next time you will have somebody to carry the family name.”

My grandfather, not one to buy into Nepal’s history of son preference, immediately maneuvered the conversation. He didn’t want my first impression of him to be that of an angry old man.

Despite the nurse’s warning, neither my parents nor my grandparents wished for anybody else to fill my shoes. I was never denied the freedom to learn from my own mistakes, and I was given space to discover myself and my capabilities. My grandfather, who was a doctor himself, even taught me how to inject vaccines. Once, when I was 15, he let me medicate him for tetanus on my own.

I required a lot of love and care during my childhood because I was born with a hole in my heart. I had a heart surgery when I was 8 years old, and I require lifelong care and medication. My family never once complained about the exhausting amount of effort I required. Even my grandparents, who took care of me all day while both my parents worked never expressed frustration or disappointment.

When it came time for me to learn about menstruation, I remember my family being very open about the topic. Menstruation is still a taboo topic in Nepal, and there are a lot of traditions and negative beliefs that surround it. Especially in rural areas, Hindus view menstruating women as impure. While they have their periods, women are forced to remain in a hut or cowshed for days, a practice known as chhaupadi. The practice has led to deaths, attacks by wild animals, snake bites, disease, rape, and poor mental health outcomes.

In urban areas, this practice is not as extreme, but women are still mostly banned from taking part in normal family activities during menstruation and can have no contact with men of the household during their first menstrual cycle.

My experience was different. I had only heard about these practices in the daily news; never had I seen the women in my house isolate themselves due to their periods. My mother travelled a lot for work, so when I learned about menstruation, it was my father who taught me. He told me what I would have to do when I had mine for the first time. At home, my mother did things regardless of whether she had her period or not.

Still, as I grew older, I began to notice that some women I knew would not enter the kitchen at those times. I did not know that they weren’t allowed to enter temples or food preparation areas because of a self-presumed “untouchability.” This confused me as a child. I couldn’t understand why women loathed being on their periods, especially because I was having difficulty starting mine and my parents were concerned. They were talking to doctors, and they thought that maybe the surgery I had had at an early age had changed how my body worked. They were saddened that I would never have periods, so they sought medical intervention to initiate the days that other women did not seem to want.

All this escaped from my mind once I finally got my period naturally at the age of 14. I still remember the smile and relief my grandfather had when he looked at me that day. He did not isolate me from the male members of the family. He did not lock me up in my room. He did not confine me to the walls of the house, and he never restricted me from going to the kitchen during my period. Instead, my grandfather immediately got me a box of chocolates and made me some soup. He had read about cravings and cramps and the nutritional requirements for a young woman during her period.

In a country that confines women to cowsheds and isolated huts during menstruation, my grandfather decided to celebrate and honor the beginning of my womanhood.

When older men like my grandfather look past taboos and superstitions, they can empower and join women in the fight to reclaim and nurture our own bodies.


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Comments 7

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Sophie Ngassa
May 23, 2017
May 23, 2017

Dear Anoushka, I was surprised to hear that your father taught you about menstration. Your stories inspires me to discuss with some men about this issue.Thanks for sharing.

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
May 24, 2017
May 24, 2017

Dear Anoushka

Think you for sharing your story.  We should have more men following your grandfather's foot steps. My father told me about menstrtion s well nd always kept tags on me to see how I was fairing. It always good to know that you have a family support system so men should pick a leaf and make their sisters daughters and wives feel more secure and confident about themselves.

Stay blessed my dear sister. 

AMumbua
May 30, 2017
May 30, 2017

Hi Anoushka,

It is a great relief to read about a man helping you with your periods. Am not even sure whether my Dad noticed and I never heard him talk about period, cramps or anything related to that. I have no explanation for that. I love your story. I believe if all fathers got involved in their daughters first menstration we would have better stories to tell. Your story has inspired me! 

Sherna Alexander Benjamin
May 30, 2017
May 30, 2017

Hello Anoushka,

While reading your story I saw a vision of hope, hope that women across the globe and young girls would have the opportunity to embrace and celebrate their periods rather than feeling ashamed of it for there is nothing to be ashamed of. 

It was refreshing to read that a male figure in your life taught you about your periods and that person being in the form of your father is more inspiring and shows how those men in your home are breaking the old social norms to help women and girls take charge of their spaces and celebrate the fact that men are working with them for change.

I look forward to your future stories with great anticipation.

Lumbiwe Lulu Limbikani
May 31, 2017
May 31, 2017

Dear Anoushka,

Thank you for sharing your story. It has created in mind the picture of what you went through and the traditional struggle other young women have to break through. I learned of my period from friends at school and was panicked when almost all my classmates had started and I hadn't. 4 months seemed like forever. When I eventually started the first person I told was my father. He took me to my grandmother who supplied me with a list of restriction that I did not follow like not cooking or putting salt in food.

I have a son and a daughter now and I am aiming at raising my boy to be like my father and like your grandfather and my daughter to be anything she would like to be. No restrictions for both!

Thank you again for your story. It made me smile with hope.

Bedana Rai
Jun 02, 2017
Jun 02, 2017

Hi Anoushka,

Since I am from Nepal, reading your story was more connecting and touchy to me. I am surprised by the environment of your family. I hope every nepali family be as yours. I find the true educated people i had imagined, who not only reads but implements that in life. And I hope every daughter gets surprised of these taboos which were imposed to other nepali women and never have to face such unnatural law.

Sister Zeph
Oct 20, 2017
Oct 20, 2017

Respect for your grandfather dear sis, I wish all girls have a father and a grandfather like him