As the practise of Chhaupadi, or sending menstruating women to ‘period huts’, is finally banned across Nepal, four teens share their experiences of facing stigma when on their periods.
For a few days of every month, teenage girls living in the small Nepalese village of Sindhuli are separated from their families, restricted from eating fruit or drinking milk and banned from seeing the sun. Some are kept out of school and refused the simple pleasure of reading a book, while others are forbidden from looking in a mirror or touching their relatives. Some are even banished to outdoor sheds.
Their only crime? Getting their monthly period.
These teens are considered ‘impure’ or ‘contaminated’ during menstruation, and the cultural norms of their society mean they are placed under these varying restrictions until their periods end.
However, there is some good news for teenage girls living in the region: lawmakers in Nepal are finally starting to dismantle the tradition of Chhaupadi.
What is Chhaupadi?
Chhaupadi is the tradition of exiling women and girls to outdoor sheds, or ‘periods huts’, when they get their periods. The practise was banned in 2005, and criminalised last year, but is still taking place in certain areas of the country. However, local authorities are now enforcing punishments including three month prison sentences and 3,000 rupee (approximately £33) fines for families who observe the tradition. Hopefully, this means it will soon be stamped out across the whole of Nepal.
In an attempt to breakdown the stigma surrounding menstruation, international charity WaterAid gave cameras to seven teenagers in Sindhuli so they could document their experiences and share their feelings with their families and friends as part of their campaign to challenge menstrual taboos.
None of the teenagers had ever used a camera before: you can meet four of them and hear their stories below.
Teens share their experiences
“When we are not touched and kept separately, I feel hated.” - Manisha Karki, 14
Manisha Karki lives with her parents, grandfather and younger brother Manish, 12. She likes reading and helping her mother with chores around the house.
Manisha's parents are very restrictive with her when she is on her period. During her first menstruation she was removed from the family home and kept inside a separate room for 22 days, as her parents did not want her to look at the sun. The only way she could keep clean was by bathing in streams before sunrise.
Now she is not allowed to touch members of the family or eat with them when she is on her period. She is also not allowed to touch the vegetable garden as her family believes the plants will die if she does so.
Manisha loves to help others. When she grows up, she wants to become a nurse.
"I captured little girls and boys playing together (above). During menstruation we should keep ourselves healthy by playing light games and taking exercise.
But during menstruation I bleed heavily and there is a constant fear that the blood stains might appear on my outer clothes. During that time when I go out to play boys start to tease me if stains are seen on my clothes. That's why during that time of month I console myself by watching others play from my veranda."
"In the above photo, I am trying to capture how we eat sitting separately when we have our menstruation.
When I eat at a distance sitting separately from other family members, I feel as if I don't belong to this family. I know they have always loved me but during menstruation, when we are not touched and kept separately, I feel hated."
"This is a picture of my mother boiling milk (above). I love drinking it very much but, during our menstruation, we are not allowed to drink cow's milk as it is considered a sin.
I think we should be given milk to drink: our body is comparatively fragile and weak during menstruation and drinking milk helps supply vitamins for the body."
"During my first menstruation I had to stay in a different house. I wasn't allowed go to school, even though I wanted to so badly.
On top of that, I wasn't allowed to even read a book."
“When somebody restricts me from doing things, I get very angry.” - Bisheshta Bhandari, 15
Bisheshta Bhandari lives with her mother and father and younger brother Bishesh, 14. She loves to read and write letters.
Bisheshta's family are well educated so don't adhere to a number of the restrictions placed on young girls during menstruation. However, they do uphold certain beliefs, including not letting girls enter the kitchen, visit a temple or touch male members of the family.
Bisheshta hopes to study and one day become an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife.
"This is a picture of my grandmother, Chitrarekha Bhandari (above). During my menstrual cycle, my grandmother restricts me from going near to her when she is making thread lights (handmade lights).
When she is preparing those threads, she tells me not to come near her or touch her as she is preparing them for God. During my menstruation when somebody comes and tells me to not to do this and that or restricts me from doing things, I get very angry."
"This is a picture of the stream where I bathe and clean my pads (above). In this picture there is a stack of pads that I use and I clicked this picture sometime before I started washing them.
During our menstrual cycle it’s very embarrassing for us to wash our used pads out in public so we find the nearest corners and isolated streams to clean them and wash ourselves."
"This photo is of my mum and me (above). My mum's name is Bimala Pokharel. During menstruation, she helps me a lot. For example; during my first menstruation I did not know how to use pads and my mom taught me.
During menstruation, there are social beliefs: we are not allowed to touch male members in the family, drink cow's milk or see the sun. But my mum allows me to drink cow's milk and stay in the sun. She also doesn't restrict me like my other friends who have to sleep in a different bed to their regular bed.
Looking at all these things, I feel as if my mum is my friend."
"Pink is my favourite colour. Mostly I like everything in pink. I like to be beautiful but, during menstruation, I get stomach ache and other health problems. This is the reason I cannot do or wear what I like. So I look at my favourite things and I feel good."
“Why does menstruation happen to us? Why am I not a boy?” - Sabina Gautam, 15
Sabina Gautam lives with her parents and older sister Srijana, 19, and younger brother Uttam, 12. She likes spending time with her friends and travelling to new places.
Sabina's family follow the same restrictive cultural practices as others in the region. When she is menstruating, Sabina is not allowed to eat or touch fruits including mango, banana and papaya. She cannot touch male members of the family and has to eat her meals separately. She says too many restrictions makes her feel sad and unhappy.
When she grows up, Sabina wants to be a police officer.
"This is a photo of the sun rise (above). When I got my first period, I was told that I should not look at sun. People say it is a sin to look at the sun during your period, which is a common belief in our community.
But I know we get vitamin D in the sun. Keeping adolescent girls inside without sun for many days is not good: we must eliminate such superstitions and social taboos through education."
"This photo (above) is a "Nabar" (which means a big pot where the water is collected). In this Nabar we collect water from the tap stand.
During menstruation I go to the tap stand to take a bath and wash my clothes but when there is a crowd I come back to this place and wash. I have to come back from the tap stand because there is a crowd very often.
In such times I wonder why I was born as a girl. Why does menstruation occur to us? Why am I not a boy? I feel very annoyed."
"This photo (above) is of my brother's marriage in the village. During periods we are not allowed to go to such social gatherings.
Even if we go, we have to stay separate to everyone else."
"In this photo (above) my mum, my brother and a school teacher are eating a meal. Menstrual girls have to stay separate while eating and this means I am kept away from my regular eating place.
In this moment I don't feel like I am a member of my family. I don't even like to eat. I feel like crying.
I'd like to question why it is believed that menstruation is a sin. My parents say that if I do not follow the social customs something very bad will happen. I ask myself, how long do I have to go on like this?"
“When girls experience their first menstruation they are not allowed to look into mirrors. I think that is wrong.” - Sushma Diyali, 15
Sushma Diyali lives with her mother and father as well as her younger sister Sony, 13, and Bibesh, five. She likes reading story books and painting.
Her parents do not impose any restrictions on her when she is menstruating, although she had to move out of the family home during her first period. She documents the struggles faced by her friends, as well as the lack of vital sanitation at her school.
When she grows up, Sushma wants to be a doctor.
"This is a picture of the mirror and comb that I use at my house (above). In our society, when girls experience their first menstruation we are not allowed to look into mirrors or comb our hair. I think that is wrong.
I have many friends whose families are really strict about these practices. I think mirrors and combs are a means of cleanliness and, as a human, it's very important that you should stay clean and healthy."
"This is my friend returning home (above) because there are no pads available at school. When we menstruate we use homemade pads because they are reusable.
But sometimes we forget to carry pads along with us, and sometimes the situation can be unpredictable, meaning we have to go to home. It consumes a lot of time and we miss so many subjects and classes.
If schools had the provision to provide pads and clean drinking water, as well as proper toilets to change pads, it would lessen almost every problem we students are facing."
"This is the place (above) where I hang my pads to dry out in the sun. Here I have hung various pieces of clothes that I use as pads. We have to wash them properly with soap and water to keep ourselves safe from the various diseases we are prone to. Hygiene is very important when it comes to health."
"I don't feel like going to school during my menstruation because of various reasons such as the unavailability of pads and rooms for changing them.
Because of lack of such services, girls like me (above) have to face various discomforts especially during menstruation. If we had girl friendly toilets in our schools I, along with my friends, would be really happy and not have to miss out on our classes."
"These are the toilets in our school (above). Although we have six to seven of them, not every toilet is open. Some are under construction, some are already damaged, some have no locking system and some have no doors. All of these toilets need serious reconstruction however, nothing has been done."
To find out more, visit wateraid.org
All images supplied by WaterAid