Nepal WASH Blog Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) & Development in Nepal

December 29, 2010

Putting a social taboo on the development agenda

Filed under: Gender,MDG — Om Prasad Gautam @ 9:00 am

Several women’s rights issues have been receiving increased attention in the development arena in recent years. Issues such as the role of women in economic development, equal representation of women in different forums and platforms, early marriage, sexual abuse and the burden of domestic duties. One issue, however, remains a taboo for many – the issue of menstruation and the effects it can have on a girl’s education, dignity and quality of life. Neither women’s activist groups nor the Government have made adequate attempts at addressing these issues in Nepal.

Menstruation is a normal, natural process that occurs in all healthy adolescent and adult women yet to reach menopause. However, it has mostly been dealt with in secrecy since even discussing menstruation means breaking a social taboo.

As I write this, many adolescent girls are dropping-out of school because a lack of toilet on the school premises means nowhere to change their sanitary pads. A lack of water means nowhere to clean themselves and they undoubtedly fear leaking blood. Traditional beliefs and taboos associated with menstruation present further challenges. Many women will have been punished today for touching a member of the opposite sex, for going to worship or for using the same ponds as others for bathing or fetching water. A lack of proper menstrual hygiene management also means that many more are facing health related problems such as itching, vaginal discharge, severe headaches and abdominal pain. I am also sure that many women woke up this morning in the cow shed, having been banished from their usual bed.

The role of Menstrual management in achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is rarely acknowledged. Yet it is clear that adequate measures to address menstrual hygiene will contribute directly to MDG-7 on environmental sustainability. Also, due to its indirect effects on school absenteeism and gender discrepancy, poor menstrual hygiene management may seriously hamper the realization of MDGs-2 on universal education and MDG-3 on gender equality and women empowerment. Unfortunately, there has been little recognition of this to date.

Issues surrounding menstrual hygiene and management have not received adequate attention in the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) sector or in the reproductive health sector. It is surprising that even gender mainstreaming literature remains silent on the issues of menstrual hygiene management.

What do you think about these issues?

Written by Om Prasad Gautam, Social Development Advisor, WaterAid in Nepal

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