SHE Nepal, a volunteering organization established in 2017, has been working to heighten awareness of women’s health problems in different places in Nepal.
Dr Garima Shrestha, founder of the organisation, came up with the concept of raising awareness among women when she completed her MBBS from Manipa College of medical science, KU Pokhara.
Shrestha says, “I did not face any restrictions at my home during my menstrual period. But when I was away from home, I witnessed many problems revolving around women’s health. So, as a medical student, I felt like it was my responsibility to conduct outreach and education programmes among women in different places. And when I put the topic to my parents, they were very supportive about it.”
SHE Nepal has mounted campaigns of raising awareness among women in different rural areas in the country.
It has to be noted that women living in urban areas have multiple choices including luxurious sanitary pads while others living in rural areas are limited to using basic pads or homemade alternatives.
Dr Shrestha says, “During my visit to many different places, I found that the government had been providing disposable sanitary pads in rural areas. But one sanitary pad lasts for four to six hours even in case of light bleeding. So, the disposable pads are not very helpful for women in rural areas where it is difficult to afford to buy one for themselves due to which they go back to using cloths as sanitary pads. So, the She Nepal came up with the idea of making its own reusable cloth pads.”
In order to address such problems being faced by the women in rural areas, the non-profit making organisation brought together a group of women to make sanitary pads, also opening a door of employment for the women involved. Besides, the reusable sanitary pads are also more eco-friendly.
Until now, more than 10,000 reusable sanitary pads have been distributed among various communities in Jhor, Panauti and Chitwan among others.
Dr Shrestha says that she had never thought the organisation would expand to such an extent in a short period of time. Various groups including Raute and Chepang communities even get back to us asking for more pads.
Shrestha recalls that things were not that easy in the beginning as talking about women’s reproductive health is a taboo in Nepal. It is not an easy job to give information or even talk openly on the subject.
“It is very challenging for outreach campaigners to hold discussion with people on the topic of the menstrual cycle. In Nepal, our culture and tradition have made us all believe that having a period is a sinful time. Women are considered untouchable and are restricted from carrying out various activities. And whenever I instruct them that it is okay to enter the kitchen and do cooking or visiting temples, many people get shocked and wonder if I want them to go against the customs or religion. But as I explain to them that it is a biological process and that every female has to go through it, they just lose their temper and rebuke me.” says Dr Shrestha.
In the Western part of Nepal, people practise ‘Chhaupadi Pratha’ where women and girls are banished and kept isolated in a small, dirty hut for the duration of their period. They believe that during period women or girls become impure and cannot be touched or otherwise they could even bring bad luck to the whole family. There are reports of numerous cases of women and girls died in the huts due to snake bites or other ailments owing to negligence during the period.
“There are two types of Chaupadi Pratha in Nepal, the seen and unseen ones. Apparently, we know that people in Western Nepal practice it, but people in urban areas such as Dharan, Pokhara, and Kathmandu also practise it in a different way. Some of my friends in Kathmandu still complains about the restrictions limiting them from carrying out different activities and not allowing them into the kitchen and even being forced to stay in an isolated for the duration of the period. I call this the unseen Chhaupadi.” explains Shrestha.
Women’s hygiene is still a very important subject to be talked about in Nepal but not many people are open to doing so. It is not only about the taboo revolving around menstruation but also female reproductive organs as well.
Dr Shrestha says, “When it comes to Women’s hygiene, we not only talk about menstruation but also the way to take care of genital organs. The majority of the women tend to use soap and water while cleaning the vaginal parts but the harsh chemicals in the soaps destroy the beneficial bacteria that naturally helps to keep the parts clean. So, it is better to use water only to clean it every day.”
Meanwhile, She Nepal has planned to raise public awareness of sexual hygiene and sexually transmitted diseases (STD) while reaching out to the people. The main objective is to make people aware of hygiene and take measures to prevent risks before allowing someone else for diagnosis, and before it is too late.
Shrestha says, “Apart from working on menstrual hygiene, we also want to initiate campaigns to raise public awareness of STDS as there are many cases where people are not aware of the infection they might be suffering from, which goes undiagnosed. It is also a big problem in the country.”