Tackling menstrual hygiene and taboos in rural Nepal

Posted in: Gender, Health

By Jennifer Thomson, Fran Amery and Melanie Channon

Centre for Development Studies members Dr Melanie Channon, Dr Fran Amery and Dr Jennifer Thomson spent a week in Kathmandu, Nepal in late July as part of their GCRF funded project Menstrual Taboos and Menstrual Hygiene Policy in Nepal: A Multi-method Scoping Study to Understand the Barriers to Good Menstrual Hygiene for Adolescent Girls.

Menstrual hygiene and taboos are increasingly important areas for the development sector. At the same time as the UK has seen new policies around period poverty and a national discussion on the ‘tampon tax’, international conversations about the challenges of menstruation are also taking place. There is now a Menstrual Hygiene day celebrated across the globe. In the development sector, organisations which work around water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) have been particularly key in framing the issue around the context of access to clean water and safe and sanitary menstrual products. Globally, menstruation is experiencing greater visibility than it has ever had within development.

As PI Melanie Channon has previously written for the CDS blog, tackling policy around menstruation faces a number of particular challenges in the context of Nepal. In this study, conducted in the Dailekh district in the west of Nepal, the majority of women practice chhaupadi, physical exclusion from the household during menstruation. Women and girls will sleep in purpose-built chhau huts, or in animal sheds, or sometimes in the open air.  This often carries severe safety and security concerns, with women and girls reporting fears over snakes and wild animals, and problems around ventilation and warmth. Although the practice was outlawed last year, the study also showed that knowledge of this amongst the population studied was patchy. When women and girls were aware it was illegal, this did not seem to have had any great impact on changing behaviour. The practice of chhaupadi is often enforced by elders and traditional healers within the community, and while younger women and girls often wish to end the practice or lessen some of its restrictions, it is difficult for them to combat these power structures.

Following the collection of quantitative survey data and qualitative focus group data in Dailekh, the three researchers’ time in Kathmandu in July was spent disseminating the initial findings of the project. The dissemination event was attended by government officials and representatives of key NGOs including Plan International, WaterAid and the UNFPA. The event was covered broadly by the Nepali press and the BBC World Service.

The level and diversity of attendance, and the keen media interest from both national and international journalists, suggests that this is a key area for policy making in Nepal and representatives were eager to learn what lessons can be taken from this study for future interventions around the issue.

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Posted in: Gender, Health


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