Change is possible if the change agents live up to their responsibility
Menstruation management is changing in Bungal Municipality of Bajhang district. After setting up a movement for raising awareness on dignified menstruation management, by the Municipality with the technical and social support of Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP), the Municipality is ready to declare a Chhau-hut (menstruation hut) free zone. This is the result of a gradual behavior change in menstruation management of the people.
A couple years ago, it was still observed in a school named Kanya Secondary School of Bungal municipality-6 that menstruating girls were not allowed to go to school. The reason was the temple next to the school. Female teachers who are menstruating used to teach the students outside of school boundary away from the temple. Due to these religious believes and rules, girls were compelled to stay away from schools for 4 days in a month. This was one of the factors causing poor education of the girls. The example is representative for the whole Municipality. Menstruation based discrimination existed throughout the Municipality. Also, menstruating women could not sleep in house but had to stay in Chhau huts exposed to wild animals and sexual abuse. In a nut shell, menstruation habits were a harmful taboo in the community.
Analyzing the situation, the Municipality with support of RVWRMP, developed a strategy with the aim at achieving the declaration of Chhau hut free zone. The first step consisted of the data collection for establishing the base-line situation. The assessment was used to inform strategy and actions were planned and implemented.
Mass awareness raising activities were conducted and people were convinced on the harmful impact of use of Chhau huts. Many support organisations as well RVWRMP conducted awareness activities on behavior change on menstruation and to reduce chhauhuts practices. The organisations mobilized the community groups, such as mother groups, and students, teachers and parents to raise the voice on to abolish the harmful practice on use of chhau huts. The Municipality administration played a leading role in making the zone "Chhau hut free", officers being active in convincing the people. Schools also organized their own awareness raising campaigns since menstruation based discrimination was a major issue at schools.
The declaration ceremony was conducted as a big mass meeting at the same school mentioned above. The ceremony was chaired by the Mayor of Municipality and Chief of the District Coordination Committee (DCC) was honored as the chief guest. RVWRMP Team Leader also participated in the event as special guest.
Accepting and dealing with the fact of menstruation, menstruating girls now continue attending the Kanya secondary school. In this line, Ramita Singh, the chair of adolescent girls group says, “We were not supposed to be at schools before, because there were some ritual believes that if menstruating girls go to the school, they will be badly harmed. After having the mass campaign in the Municipality, parents understood that girls will not be harmed during menstruating girls at schools. At the same time we have MHM friendly WASH structures in the schools including sanitary pad vending machine. The enabling environment has improved for menstruating girls who now can enjoy regular study at the school.”
Basanti Bhandari a female teacher, who was nominated the WASH focal teacher is motivated to further promote the MHM friendly environment in the schools. She encourages the girl students to come to the schools during their period. Before, due to the menstruation based taboo, she was used to teach the students outside the school.
At this moment, women are strongly discouraged to continue the traditional practices of menstruation management. Leader women have started to alter other womens behaviour to stop the unhealthy and harmful practices. Ammara Devi Kunwar, says, “It’s a drastic change in the context of Bungal. I was faced with very stubborn behavior regarding menstruation management. Menstruating women/girls were hated by the rest of the society. Now, the situation that we can see in the communities, is very good. We don’t face discrimination like before. In most of the houses, women and girls are now allowed to consume milk and curd during the period.”
It was also noticed before that the women were not supposed to be participating in social gatherings and development activities during the period. Now, there is no more restriction to participate in development and social movement during menstruation. Analyzing the changing scenario of Bungal, it can be concluded that change is possible as long as the key change agents as the Municipal government and the schools assume their guiding roles.