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Group shot of some of the girls that took part in the photography project in Nepal

Through the lens of the cursed girls

Manisha,15, took a walk around her village snapping pictures with a digital camera; the water pipe that only runs for 2 hours each morning, the bridge that runs across the river, her Aunt peeling papaya, her mother and brother eating lunch at her kitchen table, the scrap of mirror that hangs up in her bathroom. These may seem random snapshots of everyday life in Sindhuli, a small rural village in Nepal, but they’re actually all things Manisha has been told she can’t do or touch every month for the five days she has her period.

The menstruation myths

In many cultures, periods are still seen as a curse - something shameful and secret. Menstruation is seen as a time of the month when women are infected, and if they’re not careful, they could spread the curse making others unwell and food rot. When Manisha and her friends got their first period, they were sent away. Secluded from their families and society for sometimes weeks on end, just for reaching an age of womanhood. Something that should be celebrated and cherished was a frightening and confusing experience.

Manisha taking a picture of her relatives for her project

Manisha taking a picture of her relatives - she was unable to talk to male members of her family during her period.

Taking pictures of truth

Back in 2016, WaterAid supported a project in Manisha’s school where girls were given cameras and asked to document what life is like for them during their periods. They then ran exhibitions of the pictures they had taken and the taboos were openly discussed among their communities.

Manisha in front of her photography collection

Manisha in front of her photo exhibition.

The photo project included providing education and support to the people within the village so they got to know the basics behind why and how periods happen, and how to best manage their personal hygiene. Girls began to realise that if they did the restricted things on their periods - like comb their hair, look in the mirror, cross a bridge or milk a cow - nothing bad happened. The myths began to dissolve.

Manisha emphasises how important this education is:

“Many adolescent girls like us have been suffering because of taboos. People still take menstruation as a bad thing. I wish such superstition would disappear very soon. Education on menstruation and hygiene in remote areas would help them get a good education and can save their lives.”

Building a better understanding for future generations

Understanding the facts behind menstruation and having access to clean toilets and facilities to manage their periods safely, meant these girls could not only break down the taboos for themselves, but also teach the facts to their younger family and friends, stopping more disempowerment.

Being able to explore the issues freely with the help of using photography was a way to highlight aspects that were particularly important to each girl. The project got the whole community involved in working together to create a happier, more supported environment for everyone.

Sisters Sirjana and Laxmi holding their cameras

Sisters, Sirjana and Laxmi snapping stigmas.

Pioneers for the future

Bisheshta and Manisha now have taken what they have learnt and are sharing their stories with girls from other villages in Kavre, leading new photography projects so that others can grow and build brighter futures alongside them.

Bisheshta Bhandari, 17, talks about the importance of passing the facts on:

“I would tell girls in a new place that every woman has to experience menstruation. It is just a normal biological process in a woman. It is necessary to teach young people to maintain personal hygiene during their period rather than forbidding them to touch things and go to certain places.”

Bishesta talking to a group of girls about period stigmas

Bisheshta sharing her experiences with the new group of girls.

All profits from your Fempowered box go towards helping projects like this in developing countries. We believe that no one should ever feel limited by their periods.

July 19, 2019 — Team Fempowered