Oh My Period!
In Nepal, less than half of adolescent girls have adequate knowledge about menstruation, and only one in ten practices good menstrual hygiene. Adolescent girls’ inability to effectively manage menstrual hygiene affects their education, physical health, psychological and emotional well-being, and general quality of life.
Raziya grew up in a small village in Rampur, Palpa, Nepal. She got her period when she was 13 years old and recalls the experience as terrifying as she had no idea what was happening to her body. The fear was compounded by a sense of alienation and shame. Raziya felt that it was not appropriate for her to talk about what’s happening even to her mother, so she resorted to using old dirty rags as a substitute for sanitary napkins.
Raziya was not wrong to fear talking about what’s happening to her body. In a recent article published by the BMC Women’s Health Centre notes that in Nepal, the social meaning of menstruation is impurity, and during their menstrual period, women are not allowed to stay in the family. In the rural areas of Nepal, women are even banished to sheds during their menstrual period, which is a tradition known as chhaupadi. Menstrual restrictions (e.g., restrictions regarding attending school and accessing health care, food and drink) including chhaupadi are generally considered a purity practice by the local people. Girls that are made to skip school which lead to many dropping out and never completing their education.
Adolescent girls in Raziya’s community are often unaware or unprepared for the onset of menstruation. “This is mostly due to a culture of silence surrounding women’s reproductive health issues of which menstruation is a part. This lack of preparation, knowledge, and poor hygienic practices during menstruation have negative impacts on the self esteem and personal development of girls,” she notes. The stigma makes it impossible for women to get access to healthcare or to hygienic sanitary pads. A study by the World Health Organization, found that 83% of the menstruating girls in Nepal use cloth while only 15% use pads. The use of dirty cloths exacerbates health risks and makes women who use them more susceptible to serious diseases.
Raziya knew something had to change but it wasn’t until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that she decided to take action. “While the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the health, wealth and well being of people all around the world, it has significantly and disproportionately impacted women and girls when it comes to their reproductive health. Since the lockdown the daily wage women are struggling with their menstrual health needs. Women have to choose between buying bread for their children or buying pads for themselves which makes it difficult for women and girls to manage their periods safely and with dignity,” she recalls.
She decided to launch Oh My Period, an education and awareness program that utilizes storytelling to facilitate conversations about menstrual and reproductive health and amongst women in her village, and create a safe space for them to share their experiences. It also seeks to fight period poverty by working on period education and teaching women and adolescent girls how they can make reusable sanitary napkins at home with locally available resources. “When it is normalized for adolescent girls to speak up about the discomfort they face, it will become equally normal for others to listen to their needs and provide them with the basic services and when a girl is educated, it changes everything.”
Since its inception, Oh My Period has successfully delivered four workshops in Raziya’s community affecting 40 mothers and girls, and teaching them how to make DIY sanitary napkins. Raziya hopes to expand the scope of her project beyond one off workshops to a program in collaboration with government and health agencies that will ensure its sustainability and longevity.
Reflecting on her experience creating a project on the Peace First platform, Raziya says “if not Peace First, I don’t think I’d have been able to take such a big step in my life. I used to volunteer at organizations but never thought of creating a project on my own. Had it not been for Peace First, I’d not have the courage to take a step towards addressing this issue.” She added that the design tools offered by Peace First to help changemakers analyze their chosen injustice helped her gain a profound understanding of the urgency surrounding the issue of menstrual health in her community. Raziya hopes to continue her work for the young girls so they can celebrate their womanhood with pride.
To learn more about Raziya and her project, watch her speak to our regional manager for Asia and Oceania on the monthly regional Instagram live show.