Menstrual health is not only a ‘women’s subject’.
Period taboo and shame associated with menstruation takes a toll on the lives of many young girls and women in Nepal. Ensuring access to menstrual hygiene management products and facilities is an important step in achieving gender equality. But above all, making them feel they are not untouchable is a game changer.
With a surge in the use of social media in recent years, women have begun sharing their stories about menstruation. Pooja Bista, 23, is one among them. When Pooja wrote an article around menstrual period for a daily newspaper, she was advised to not walk the lanes of feminism. “The word feminism struck in my head for a very long time,” she recalls. Soon she posted a blog about her first period with a representative picture of a vulva and it got flagged by the website for violating community guidelines. “Someone got so triggered by it that he reported it. That day I felt I needed to share more period experiences to offend people like him,” Pooja shares.
Yet this freedom is often questioned and those sharing their stories are threatened with bans, while trolls who indulge in moral policing and shaming women go scot-free. “It’s time to not silence girls and women with shame but give them the freedom and knowledge to deal with it. Social media is a powerful tool and it should be used to spread positivity and awareness among people,” says Pooja.
Given the lack of conversation about periods, Pooja created a platform in 2019 to share untold period stories with a group of young people in Nepal. The group mostly focuses on urban Nepal. “It is time we realise that menstruation is just a biological process and the secrecy surrounding it must go. It is important to normalise menstruation and destroy taboos around this natural process,” she says.
“Talking is all it takes to begin a transformation and it’s time we did it,” she adds.
Pooja used to write her period stories in English on social media, she was scared her parents would read it if written in Nepali. However, relatives and neighbours played their part and the stories became a topic of discussion at home. “During my periods, I was excluded from social and religious events, denied entry into temples and shrines, and even kept out of the kitchen. My father didn’t pick me back from college when I was on my period. All this was happening in the capital which is regarded and termed ‘modern’. I wanted to talk about it,” she shares. “Moreover, it was not a topic that was discussed even among girls,” she recalls.
Through her storytelling platform, Untold Period Stories, Pooja aims to provide a safe space for people to share their personal experiences related to menstrual health and hygiene. Co-founded by Louise Nothomb, today the Untold Period Stories team consists of eight dedicated members, including two young men, who play an integral role in challenging societal norms surrounding menstruation.
These platforms serve as a reality check about the importance of educating boys and men about menstruation. Menstrual health is not only a ‘women’s subject’. Comprehensive and meaningful education on menstrual processes, supportive environments, encouraging participation, and honest conversations can help adolescent boys and men better understand mentrual health hygiene.
“I always make sure that my father and my brother attend the different events that we organise to talk about menstruation. We have published stories highlighting changing perspectives among men, showcasing the impact of open dialogue and education,” Pooja tells us.
“From an early age, girls learn to live with this pain and fear, and seldom do we see a girl seek help when in physical or mental discomfort due to periods. In fact, due to lack of conversation about periods, many adolescent girls in Nepal are unaware of menstruation until they get it themselves,” she states.
She points out that parents rarely prepare their daughters for something they know is bound to happen. And this unpreparedness leads to so much avoidable fear and anxiety.
By fostering dialogue, collaboration, and embracing inclusivity, Untold Period Stories is rewriting the narrative surrounding menstruation in Nepal. Through persistent efforts, they are working towards creating a society that promotes understanding and respect for menstruation, where it no longer becomes a barrier to the well-being and empowerment of women.
Every year, Untold Period Stories tries to host events under different themes such as collaborating with live arts, telling their stories through painting and making people participate in it. They also advocate for eco-friendly menstrual health products. They have been initiating a campaign ‘Beyond the Blood’, which involves individuals who do not menstruate, including young children and male participants. This project aims to break down societal barriers and foster greater understanding and empathy.
So why does educating the family about menstruation matter? “It has to start from home. I started from my home. However, my family didn’t implement it immediately but I can see the changes. Also, most girls don’t know their bodies are changing when they start menstruating, that menstruation is a biological process, or what they can do to regulate it. And a family can step in here,” Pooja explains. Further, she believes sensitivity training for teachers vis-à-vis such socially controversial subjects could effectively help better implement menstrual-care measures in schools.