Goodwill Ambassador for Dignified Menstruation Management in Sudurpaschim
Back in February 2020, 24 Vice Chairs from RVWRMP Rural Municipalities (RM) came together to discuss the situation of women in their municipalities and problems they faced regarding menstruation taboos. As a result of the meeting, an eight-point Dhangadhi Declaration for Dignified Menstruation Management (DMM) was signed on February 11, 2020, with the slogan of "Dignified Menstruation Management with Proper Hygiene, Safety and Self-respect". The Vice Chairs committed to develop DMM directives in their municipalities and provide budget to support implementation.
Sadly, COVID-19 arrived in Nepal shortly after this and all attention turned to battling the pandemic.
In November, the DMM Declaration was revisited with a workshop held in Dhangadhi. 16 RM Vice Chairs from Sudurpaschim Province participated, along with three provincial staff and the Deputy Speaker of the Provincial Assembly. Representatives of national departments, a disability organisation, and international organisations were also present. Participants discussed progress on DMM and options for sustainability, such as establishing a provincial network, as well as the concept of appointing a thematic ambassador to raise attention.
There is a long history of discrimination towards menstruating women in Far-Western Nepal, and community members have learned since birth that menstruating women are untouchable. Consequently, it takes time to change beliefs and behaviours. The following challenges to implementing local level directives on DMM were identified:
Traditional mindset of community members, taboos are still a problem
Weak coordination among different levels of government
Insufficient prioritisation of the issue by male leaders in municipalities
Impact of COVID-19, which has sucked attention and budget away from other activities.
The participants then discussed how to consolidate the work done so far and make sustainable progress.
One idea to promote the cause is to appoint a DMM Ambassador. Evidence has shown that campaigns supported by influential personalities or celebrities are very effective in gaining attention. RVWRMP has identified a female celebrity who comes from the local area, and can raise awareness of the issue with adolescents, parents, teachers and community members in general. Ms. Rekha Joshi comes from Bajura and is a well-known deuda singer, with an extensive social media following in the region. Rekha already spoke about issues faced by menstruating women and girls in a DMM webinar held in March 2021 via Zoom, with the participation of Vice Chairs and schoolgirls from remote areas (see related blog post). The participating girls were thrilled to have a celebrity talking directly with them about their problems.
Rekha participated in the November workshop and sang many songs, including on the topic of menstrual discrimination. As an example of her social media outreach, she has over 250 000 followers on TikTok, one of the most popular social media platforms in Nepal. Her songs in YouTube are also reaching hundreds of thousands of people. If she can spread messages related to fighting menstruation taboos coupled with her local contextual knowledge of the situation in Far-Western Nepal, the impact can be immense.
The idea of a DMM Ambassador has received strong support from the Vice Chairs, and dates are already being planned for visits to the municipalities. Official engagements could include newspaper, magazine, television and/or radio interviews and songs, as well as concerts in schools and communities, and activities on social media. A contract was signed with Rekha in February 2022, with RVWRMP coordinating and financing the programme until July 2022. The project is currently discussing with national DMM stakeholders about continuing the programme even after RVWRMP finishes if it proves successful.
The Vice Chairs came away from the workshop with renewed enthusiasm, as leaders of the movement in their community. They will drive the campaign forward from their respective municipal executives. Hopefully everyone will soon start to sing the same song of safe and respected menstruation.