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Nepali Girls Snap Exclusion During Menstruation

In Nepal, the stigma surrounding the “time of the month” often means girls are kept apart from their families. In this photo essay, seven girls from a rural district document their lives during their periods.

Written by Sonia Narang Published on Read time Approx. 8 minutes
Photo1 credit wateraid mani karmacharya
These teenage girls in rural Nepal used cameras for the first time and photographed the restrictions they face during their period. Pictured, from left to right: Sushma Diyali, Bisheshta Bhandari, Bandana Khadka, Sabina Gautam, Rabina Budhathoki, Manisha Karki and Rita Baral. WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya

In parts of Nepal, menstruating women and girls are considered “impure” due to long-held cultural beliefs and taboos. In many families, girls are forbidden to sleep in their own room or home, enter the kitchen, eat with family, eat certain foods or even look in the mirror during that time of the month.

On top of this, girls often miss school during their period because they don’t have access to proper toilets. They also risk infections because of a lack of clean and safe places to bathe or wash sanitary pads away from everyone else.

The international nonprofit organization WaterAid gave cameras to seven teenage girls in Nepal’s rural Sindhuli district so they could photograph and share their experiences of exclusion during their periods. They exhibited the photos in the village to open up a discussion and dispel the myths about menstruation.

WaterAid works across Nepal to help women and girls access toilets, clean water and sanitary supplies.

Here are the girls’ photos and their very touching stories.

“This is my mother and sister. Here, my mother is feeding my sister with so much love. My mother loves me very much as well. However, during my menstruation cycle, I am kept separately and have to eat at a distance. When nobody touches me, I feel unloved. We need lots of love and support during our period, but when I am separated and treated like an untouchable, I feel no love from my mother and father, and I feel only hatred. I feel sad being treated that way.” (WaterAid/Bandana Khadka)

“This is my mother and sister. Here, my mother is feeding my sister with so much love. My mother loves me very much as well. However, during my menstruation cycle, I am kept separately and have to eat at a distance. When nobody touches me, I feel unloved. We need lots of love and support during our period, but when I am separated and treated like an untouchable, I feel no love from my mother and father, and I feel only hatred. I feel sad being treated that way.” (WaterAid/Bandana Khadka)

 

“This is place where I used to wash myself during my first period. My sister Shristi is washing her face in this picture. When I had my first menstruation, I stayed at another house, since we’re not allowed to stay in our own house during that time. Though I don’t have as many restrictions as my friends, I was still required to stay out of my own home. I think this is due to social pressure. We teenage girls are more comfortable with our own parents, and during menstruation we need extra care and support from them. But, when we have to stay out of our own home in another house for seven days, we may not feel comfortable. Adolescent girls should have the right to stay with their parents to feel safe and secure.” (WaterAid/Bisheshta Bhandari)
“This is place where I used to wash myself during my first period. My sister Shristi is washing her face in this picture. When I had my first menstruation, I stayed at another house, since we’re not allowed to stay in our own house during that time. Though I don’t have as many restrictions as my friends, I was still required to stay out of my own home. I think this is due to social pressure. We teenage girls are more comfortable with our own parents, and during menstruation we need extra care and support from them. But, when we have to stay out of our own home in another house for seven days, we may not feel comfortable. Adolescent girls should have the right to stay with their parents to feel safe and secure.” (WaterAid/Bisheshta Bhandari)

 

“This is my kitchen. When I clicked this picture, my mother had just finished cooking ‘sel-roti’ (traditional doughnut-like bread prepared from rice flour). I really love ‘sel-roti.’ But during our menstruation, we are not allowed inside the kitchen. We are not allowed to touch anything inside the kitchen, including cooking materials, food and utensils. I am not allowed to eat ‘sel-roti’ as well. On other days, when I am not on my period, I work and eat in the same kitchen. Eating separately during menstruation makes me sad. I feel cast away, as if I’m a stranger and not the part of the family.” (WaterAid/Manisha Karki)
“This is my kitchen. When I clicked this picture, my mother had just finished cooking ‘sel-roti’ (traditional doughnut-like bread prepared from rice flour). I really love ‘sel-roti.’ But during our menstruation, we are not allowed inside the kitchen. We are not allowed to touch anything inside the kitchen, including cooking materials, food and utensils. I am not allowed to eat ‘sel-roti’ as well. On other days, when I am not on my period, I work and eat in the same kitchen. Eating separately during menstruation makes me sad. I feel cast away, as if I’m a stranger and not the part of the family.” (WaterAid/Manisha Karki)

 

“This is the set of utensils I use during my period. I’m not allowed to sit in my usual place on those days. When I’m not given the seat where I usually sit, it feels really bad. Everyone sits around and eats together, whereas I am separated. For four days, I’m not allowed to touch any other utensils other than the ones that are separated for me. I just eat and drink in them and make sure I do not use extra mugs and plates. After I’m done eating, I have to wash this and keep it separately from other utensils. I feel really bad during those four days.” (WaterAid/Rabina Budhathoki)
“This is the set of utensils I use during my period. I’m not allowed to sit in my usual place on those days. When I’m not given the seat where I usually sit, it feels really bad. Everyone sits around and eats together, whereas I am separated. For four days, I’m not allowed to touch any other utensils other than the ones that are separated for me. I just eat and drink in them and make sure I do not use extra mugs and plates. After I’m done eating, I have to wash this and keep it separately from other utensils. I feel really bad during those four days.” (WaterAid/Rabina Budhathoki)

 

“The photo is of my brother’s marriage in the village. During my period, I can’t attend such social gatherings. Even if we go, we have to stay separate. Though I like to attend marriage ceremonies, I don’t like to go during my period due to this social superstition.” (WaterAid/Sabina Gautam)
“The photo is of my brother’s marriage in the village. During my period, I can’t attend such social gatherings. Even if we go, we have to stay separate. Though I like to attend marriage ceremonies, I don’t like to go during my period due to this social superstition.” (WaterAid/Sabina Gautam)

 

“This is a picture of the mirror and comb I use at my house. In our society, when girls experience their first menstruation, we are not allowed to look into mirrors or comb our hair. I think that is a wrong belief that we have in our society. My family does not follow this practice. But many of my friends’ families are really strict, so they aren’t allowed to look at themselves in the mirror and comb their hair. If my friends could grow up in an environment where there are no limitations during menstruation and receive more support from their families, they could feel free and have more opportunities.” (WaterAid/Sushma Diyali)
“This is a picture of the mirror and comb I use at my house. In our society, when girls experience their first menstruation, we are not allowed to look into mirrors or comb our hair. I think that is a wrong belief that we have in our society. My family does not follow this practice. But many of my friends’ families are really strict, so they aren’t allowed to look at themselves in the mirror and comb their hair. If my friends could grow up in an environment where there are no limitations during menstruation and receive more support from their families, they could feel free and have more opportunities.” (WaterAid/Sushma Diyali)

 

“This is the small irrigation canal in my village. During my first menstruation, I used to come here to take a bath. I had to come to this place early in the morning, even before sunrise. People believe I should not be seen by or see any males during my first period. Since it was dark early in the morning, I used to get scared and felt insecure. I have a sister, but I will never let her go alone to this place.” (WaterAid/Rita Baral)
“This is the small irrigation canal in my village. During my first menstruation, I used to come here to take a bath. I had to come to this place early in the morning, even before sunrise. People believe I should not be seen by or see any males during my first period. Since it was dark early in the morning, I used to get scared and felt insecure. I have a sister, but I will never let her go alone to this place.” (WaterAid/Rita Baral)

Using their photo project, the girls challenged the norms surrounding menstrual taboos in their rural community. They hope their stories will begin to change people’s minds.

“When I had my first period, my mother restricted [me] from crossing the river. She told me I’d get demons inside me,” said 15-year-old Bandana Khadka. “I think we should change these kinds of beliefs.”

WaterAid hopes this project will encourage communities throughout Nepal to ensure safe access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

From left to right, Sabina Gautam, Rabina Budhathoki, Rita Baral and Bisheshta Bhandari used a camera for the first time during a workshop organized by the international charity WaterAid. (WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya)
From left to right, Sabina Gautam, Rabina Budhathoki, Rita Baral and Bisheshta Bhandari used a camera for the first time during a workshop organized by the international charity WaterAid. (WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya)

“The girls of Sindhuli, Nepal, remind us through their photos and personal stories that women will only play a full role in society when the silence and stigma around periods have been laid to rest,” said Sarina Prabasi, who leads WaterAid America.

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