Menstrual Hygiene Champions 

Last week after our biggest festival, Tihar I met bunch of enthusiastic young girls. We were there in Female Friendly Space to discuss about disaster and its effect on young girl’s menstrual health and hygiene.

One of the young girls shared that when the devastating earthquake hit Nepal in 25th April, she was due with her menstruation. The ground was shaking so her uterus too. However she had bleeding for a day. She was worried and there was no one to talk about as continuous aftershocks were killing people mentally. Likewise, another girl shared her menstruation was delayed almost two months after earthquake. She was worried about it but was happy enough as she did not need to stress about her period when everyone was facing trouble due to earthquake.

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It has been almost eight months after the earthquake. People in Nepal are still living in temporary shelters. It was really difficult when we started our relief activities for earthquake victim in affected areas. Our intervention was to access on SRHR need of affected people. They did not want to learn about menstrual hygiene and its importance.  In some places, people even rejected to take sanitary napkins that we distributed. Therefore, we thought to work with schools and teachers in affected districts on menstrual health management. It requires more young facilitators to approach schools and train young girls on menstrual hygiene and home made sanitary pads. We trained about 15 young girls on menstrual hygiene and mobilize them.

Meeting these wonderful young girls and orienting them on menstrual health I came across with different stories. We talked about their first menstrual experience. One of the participant shared she was alone at her home when she had her first bleeding. When she woke up, her bed sheet was stained with blood. She did not know from where she bleed. Shock checked every where but she could not figure out. Later her mother gave her cloth to place in underwear. But her mother did not explain her what actually happened. She had to learn herself.

IMG_2412All laughed when she shared her story saying I thought I had serious disease that led to heavy bleeding continuously from her private part. She shared she cried thinking she is going to die soon before she gets married. Well marriage in our culture has high regards and its that important that every girl dreams of it.

Now, we have huge team to aware and educate other young girls about their menstruation before they bleed without knowing anything. We named the team as menstrual hygiene champions. The journey begins and our champions have already started to approach schools and train school students on menstrual hygiene and preparing home made sanitary pads.

One of our champions who being to schools and met teenagers shared theIMG_2518 girls think talking about menstruation is an embarrassment. Another champion shared that even teachers thinks menstrual fluid is impure. This means we have started to intervene in traditional understanding of menstruation. We believe change take times and our menstrual health champions are change makers.

 

 

“Mom I am not ready”

Today I am going to share with you the tragedy of growing up. My childhood, I believe was better than getting into adolescent and now youth category. I had happy and enjoyable life being first daughter of my parent where there was huge appreciation of getting good grades and being obedient. Enjoyed in home based game station with my cousins. Grew up learning nursery rhymes and bed time stories which now if I recall, feel sorry for dreaming to be one of the princess who lost her shoe and was waiting for her prince charming. Yes, my mom as any other mothers shared her best stories of princess who struggle to make her dream come true whether kissing a frog, losing a shoe, brightening her hair or being whitest ever. The reason behind these bed time stories was to make me understand a social phenomena “Marriage is compulsory”. During those days as child, these stories fantasies me and I could not say “Mom I am not ready” to dream a prince.

My bed time stories ended when I reached my puberty. I remember my first day of menstruation. I was frightened, holding my underwear inked red with blood and searching my mom for rescue. I was much terrified to know my private area was bleeding and all my bed sheet turned to be red. The I met with reality that even in this situation when I am traumatized there was not any prince to secure me with correct information or holding my hands with hope to never let it go away.  Now I realized that my mom wasted time finding those fancy bedtime stories. It did not helped me instead made me imaginary to imagine a prince. My mom was comfortable to give me indirect hints saying “Marriage is made in heaven” but she was uncomfortable saying what happens after marriage. As I look behind into my puberty my mom never talked about menstruation before I faced it as tsunami in my life. Neither my sisters nor aunts talked about enlargement of my breast before I felt embarrassed. When I asked why I am bleeding four days a month, the reply was it is consequences of my bad deed in previous birth. What? Exactly same response.

As I grew up to my teen and doing most of the household works like assisting family members to cook food, washing dishes, cleaning, washing, sweeping and behaving a typical Newari girl; my relatives started to tease me saying “thulo vaye cha choori aba bihe gardinu parla” (Now she is grown up she is eligible to marry), “keta khojyo uskolagi” (Did you search groom for her?) etc. Remembering those embarrassing moments where I could not reply to those relatives and say “Mom I am not ready” for those comments, make me want to reverse the time and shout on those relatives saying it’s non of your business. With all those teaching from my parents and being totally feminine with smile on my face I had to dissolve those comments. And I could not day “Mom I am not ready“. My family was much more interested to find me a groom than asking me about my bra size or getting me sanitary napkins or teaching me how to use home made pads. Here in Nepal marriage is taken as license to get indulge in sexual relationship legally and having babies no matter how  many.

Our culture does not allow talking about sex and sexuality. But the intention behind marriage proposal during first age of girl’s teen is indirectly talking about having sexual relationship with a guy. How could a girl take this? I am not allowed to talk about bodily changes during puberty but I am forced to meet a stranger to get arranged marriage. This time I go to one of my cousins wedding reception wearing sari or kurta, all my relatives are much more interested on news When I will be getting engaged than my cousin’s wedding. Someone says “aba ta timrai pali, koi cha vane hamilai na lajaikana vanna la” (Now its your turn to ring the bell. Let us know if you are in relation without hesitation) as if they are going to accept my relationship with a guy of another caste. My parents will be listening to those comments and keep smiling with hints as they want to relay same message to me that I am eligible to get married. That is why I have stopped going to any relatives’ parties and they say I am being unsocial. My relatives are more interested on my growing age than my family. I got my first marriage proposal when I completed my school. Everyone was positive about the proposal, do you believe this? Even my dad and mom. I was just 16 years old back then. The thing I regret is I could not say ” Mom I am not ready”. Since then there was open gate for someone in my family for getting marriage proposal.

My parents are thinking about my better and secure future. But they have not realized how I could, when we are not discussing about my sexual life. They want me to choose a stranger and want me to say “Yes” meeting him for first time. They are not thinking my compatibility with him and how I could trust him. The culture of marriage in my family is going like this. Parents fixed the meeting of potential bride and groom, expect “yes” from both of them as soon as possible, get engage and finally marriage happens. None has argued on this and raised question. In defense my parents said the marriages happened are successful. I am not allowed to date my friend but I am allowed with a strangers and the excuse from my parents is “His father is my childhood friend”. What an excuse!! Another scenario is my cousin has a boy friend and she had already shared this with her parents. Although my family has given her green signal inside they are not happy with her relationship. Families have had their meetings and finally they are going to engage. Still my family has objection on her getting close to her boy friend or frequently staying late evening with him. Don’t you think its funny? My cousin who has shared her status of being in relationship with a guy and family agreed their engagement in near future are objecting them for spending time with each other. But I who is not in relationship is forced to meet a stranger, spend time with him, talk or phone him frequently and without asking me they announce my relation status with him……. emm….. not happening. This is because I did not say “Mom I am not ready“.

The message I am trying to relay is  marriage is not simply handing daughters to a stranger. It not about celebrations and parties for more than seven days or up to month. Marriage come with responsibility. Before that it’s a girl decision whether to get married or not. She has right to decide with whom, when and where she gets engaged with. Before than she should have accurate information about her body and changes, sex and sexual relationship, emotions and pleasures, contraception and abortion. In our society daughters are taught how to impress her husband, compromise in relationship and at the end most of the marriage fail within and none stays happy. Daughters should be empowered by giving her higher education due to which she would be able to take her own decision, negotiate and compromise on her own cost. These lessons should be provided by parents but it lacks in our society which is leading huge generation gap. There should be culture of saying “Mom I am not ready“.