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Nepal celebrated Menstrual Hygiene Day in May by organizing different activities designed to prevent or reduce taboos associated with menstruation. In the closing session of a ceremony on 28 May, the international Menstrual Hygiene Day, the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Women and Children, Education and Health and the speaker of the lower Parliament signed a seven-point declaration on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) demonstrating intersectoral cooperation and committement to MHM policy and practice change.
The seven points expressed a commitment from the authorities to implement better policies, eliminate and prohibit ill practices due to taboos, ensure the construction of mentruating girl-friendly latrines in institutions with regular availability of water, implement intensive campaigns and public advocacy for social transformation at community level through government and non-government agencies, civil societies and private sectors.
The government has already drafted a national policy on dignified menstruation and is in the process of endorsement by the Cabinet. Mr. Guna raj Shrestha, National Coordinator for WSSCC in Nepal, is supporting the MHM policy making process. The government is currently developing an MHM Master Plan (2018-2020) in collaboration with WSSCC, UNICEF, WaterAid, PSI and selected media to address the menstruation taboos and ensure availability of proper facilities and materials. The parliament has recently passed a bill to punish by imprisonment or a fine of RS 10,000 to those who force people to practices under the Chhaupadi system – the age-old tradition of banishing women to cowsheds or tiny huts during menstruation.
However, the current state of menstrual health and hygiene management constrains women in Nepal in more than just physical ways. It also generates significant psychological burdens extending from embarrassment in front of peers, hindering them from living a life free from shame. In particular, adolescent girls view menstruation and menstrual blood as “impure” and “dirty”, thus feeling ashamed, as concluded by the Peer Ethnographic Study on Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management in Nepal prepared by Population Services International.
Apart from the social, cultural and religious aspects, one of the largely ignored parts on the use of menstrual huts is the severe health impacts associated with the taboos and stigmas. Due to the practice of Chhapaudi, Nepalese women suffer from pneumonia, diarrhoea, and other respiratory tract infections as a result of poor MHM.
Through this public policy committment, the Nepalese political authorities are pursuing a positive note towards improving the nation’s MHM situation. Women are entitled to the right to live with dignity, respect and confidence and Nepal is headed at the right direction.