Participants on the stigma-breaking photography project in rural Nepal
August 20, 2021 — Team Fempowered

Not looking in the mirror.

Not talking to men.

Not milking a cow.

Whilst it may seem unimaginable to many of us, these are just some of the societal expectations that still exist for those with a period in parts of Nepal. Oftentimes viewed as a curse, these taboos can make starting and managing menstruation a difficult and sometimes downright scary experience.

But together, we're working to change that.

Back in 2016, WaterAid launched a photography project where they encouraged a brilliant group of school-aged girls to snap those stigmas. Literally!

This group of inspiring young women documented what life was like for them whilst on their periods, as a step towards fighting the discrimination that too often goes hand in hand with menstruation. Alongside WaterAid, they ran an exhibition where they openly talked about their experiences – an invaluable way to kickstart conversations within their communities!

After seeing what they created and how committed they were to switching up negative period perceptions, we just knew we had to get to know them better. Prepare yourself to be inspired...

Let's meet the Period Pioneers

Period pioneersClockwise from top left: Bishesta (20), Sapana (17), Manisha D (17), Manisha C (17), Saraswoti (17), Anita (17), Rabina (20).

Over the last few months, we’ve been lucky enough to speak to each of these absolute heroes (socially distanced, of course) to hear what they have to say about periods, menstruation discrimination and what they’ve learned since working with WaterAid. Fempowered customers submitted questions for the girls and WaterAid’s Nepal-based team member, Mani, interviewed them. Let’s dive into what they said...

What was it like starting your period?

Just like many young people in the UK, these girls from Nepal also felt nerves and uncertainty around starting their periods. However, some of them also had to experience complete isolation thanks to the societal norms that still exist in parts of the country.

One theme that came up again and again in our conversations with them was the fact that they felt they had to hide it.

I didn't talk about my first menstruation to anyone even after returning home.

– Anita

Similarly, Bisheshta explained that she was nervous and didn't know what to do.

After eventually talking to their families or their families figuring out that they had started their period many of the girls were told to stay outside of the home for several days, as is traditional in parts of Nepal: Anita, Saraswoti and Manisha D each stayed with family or neighbours for between five and seven days.

Anita was even made to drink from a different glass and wash her hands far away from the flowers in case they died.

Luckily for some of the girls, their family reassured them that menstruation was nothing to worry about and supported their transition into this next stage of their life. Bisheshta was told that “it was a normal biological process” and Saraswoti's mum “does not believe in such conservative rituals”, which are still huge parts of some of Nepalese culture.

How did lockdown impact your period?

Periods don’t stop in a pandemic! And, for a lot of the girls we spoke to, lockdowns and restrictions in Nepal made managing menstruation all the more difficult.

Bisheshta, Rabina and Manisha C each described how shops and markets being closed made getting hold of pads extremely tricky. This meant that they had to be “extra cautious” (Rabina) about what they used.

How has your mindset about periods changed?

Thanks to the amazing work that they did alongside WaterAid, all of the girls now seem to have a better knowledge of menstruation, feel more confident managing it and more comfortable talking about it! In fact, most of them agree that conversation is the way forward in terms of breaking down those taboos that do still exist.

If you share your problems with your friends and family or whoever you trust and also share your knowledge about menstruation, together we can overcome the problems and find the solution!

– Bishesta

Each of the girls also showed amazing commitment to changing any negative perceptions about periods that they had:

It is not easy to bring about change. You have to start the change within yourself.

– Rabina

What advice would you give to your younger self?

To finish off this post, we want to share how each Period Pioneer answered this question. It was one of our favourites!

“I would want to advise my younger self not to worry too much about menstruation. It is a natural process. There is nothing wrong with your body.” – Anita

“Menstruation is not a sin.” – Bisheshta

Menstruation is quite natural and happens to almost every woman. You shouldn’t be afraid or feel shy talking about it. Doing so will not harm anyone but yourself.

– Manisha C

“Don’t fear menstruation... [it] is a natural occurrence that happens with every girl or woman. During menstruation girls need love and affection not hatred.” – Manisha D

“When individuals gather, community is created, and united community forms a society. There are misconceptions and taboos about menstruation in society and they will remain for longer. So, start raising your voice.” – Rabina

“You need support, love and affection. Don’t easily agree to being sent away from your home during your first menstruation.” – Saraswoti