RVWRMP Field Workers at the Frontline of Changing Attitudes on Menstruation Hygiene Management


MANJU BHATTA

Behaviour Change Communication Officer

Rural Village Water Resources Management Project,

Phase III Project Support Unit,

Email-manju.bhatta@rvwrmp.org.np.

manju.bhatta@rvwrmp.org.np


International Menstrual Hygiene Day (28.5.) is dedicated to raising awareness around the vital role of menstrual hygiene management in empowering women and adolescent girls around the world to became all that they can be. The vision behind the day is a world in which all women and girls can manage their menstruation in a hygienic way with safety, privacy, and dignity wherever they are.

The Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP) has worked on menstruation issues since 2006 and has been celebrating this day since 2014 by conducting various types of awareness raising activities and campaigns. This day promotes knowledge of natural menstruation processes and a reduction in unhygienic and unhealthy behaviours and traditional mindsets towards menstruation. Personal menstrual hygiene is essential to ensure a dignified life. However, some social taboos and cultural beliefs make it a stigma and a sin for women and girls. Many of them feel ashamed to ask menstruation related questions. The MH day can be used to break the silence on menstruation and increase the knowledge on menstrual hygiene and dignified behaviour in communities. The RVWRMP field teams are working directly with the communities to raise awareness on dignified menstruation.


Nepal has expanded the celebration to the broader concept of Dignified Menstruation Management (DMM) since 2018 through collaboration with different ministries. The aim is for local and national governments take on responsibility to carry out the activities needed to ensure menstruation taboos disappear and women can live a dignified life, without experiencing discrimination.


However, there are still menstrual hygiene management issues rooted in the culture of the RVWRMP project area in Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces. Here, some of the field staff of RVWRMP describe their work in the community to change attitudes and improve knowledge and skills.


Role of the Social and Health Promotor (SHP) in supporting Menstrual Hygiene Management during the COVID 19 pandemic.


Due to COVID related restrictions and the serious risks of further infections, it is not possible to gather villagers in one place and organize awareness campaigns and mass meetings. We can’t hold the traditional mass celebrations of International Menstrual Hygiene Day in each community this year. In this situation, SHPs are visiting door to door in the scheme area and orienting household members on the importance of hand washing and hygiene management, including during menstruation. They are also updating self-monitoring charts. They are encouraging COVID-infected and isolated people and instructing them on precautions they should follow during the infection period. Some sanitation materials have been provided to those people who are in isolation and facing difficulties (mask, sanitizer, sanitary pads, hand wash liquid, soap).


Stories from the field team


1. Gita GC, Field Coordinator, Bogtan Fudsil RM, Doti (11 years' experience with RVWRMP)

As a local resident of the working area, I observed that none of the women were using taps and toilets during menstruation, and they were staying in chhau-huts constructed far from their houses. Nobody used to consume milk products and other nutritious foods. Nobody attended school, meetings, training, and other social functions during menstruation. There was no practice of using sanitary pads, and women lacked personal hygiene. During their menstruation they had to carry out hard labour work outside the house (fodder and firewood collection, for instance) as they weren’t allowed to do housework. To overcome these problems, a community organization formed in each water supply scheme. We organized training for local healers and priests on social taboos and malpractices of the community. School girls and local women were trained on sanitary pad making. The Project also constructed menstruation-friendly toilets in schools (for instance, with a lockable door, water for washing and changing, and a place to dispose commercial pads). We regularly visit door to door to monitor the status and fill up self-monitoring formats. Now menstruating women are staying at home during menstruation, they use locally made sanitary pads, and are increasingly using toilet and tap. Menstruating girls are continuing to attend school. Menstruating women maintain their personal hygiene, and they can attend public meetings and trainings. There are a lot of positive changes in the community.


2. Roshani Rawal, SHP, Aalital RM, Dadeldhura (12 years' experience working experience with the community with RVWRMP)

In Aalital RM, different unsafe and harmful behaviours were practiced earlier. Women were forced to stay overnight in the cowshed and no schoolgirls attended school during menstruation. RVWRMP launched an orientation program for adolescent girls in schools and gave orientation to the School WASH coordination committee. We organised different types of campaigns at ward level and the RM formulated rules to eradicate discriminatory practices. Chhau-huts were demolished, and we conducted door to door monitoring visits. We filled up self-monitoring data and triggered behaviour change using different tools. The municipality rewarded the households where female members don't stay in chhau-huts. After a long effort by the municipality and the Project, menstruating women now stay inside their home during menstruation, and the community is moving to reach total sanitation status. Schools are now upgrading their sanitation and hygiene status to three-star status.


3. Damanti Rokaya, SHP, Apihimal RM, Darchula (5 Years working experience with the community and RVWRMP)

Untouchability, not attending school and not attending social functions and meetings, were major issues for menstruating girls and women in Apihimal RM. Menstruating women were using dirty clothes as sanitary pads and they were not allowed to consume milk products and other nutritious food. The menstruating women used to bathe only on the fourth day of menstruation. One traditional custom was to marry girls before their first menstruation. The Project conducted series of orientations at settlement level. MHM day was celebrated with huge participation, and community people were also oriented on the legal provisions of menstruation management. We provided sanitary pad making training to mothers group and schoolgirls. The municipality mobilizes their health staff to give orientations to the community. Now the scenario has completely changed, and menstruating women consume vegetables and milk products, they bathe daily, they produce sanitary pads locally and use them regularly during menstruating days. They have started to stay overnight in safe and clean places during menstruation, after the long intervention of the Project.


4. Basanti Bhandari, SHP, Chhabis Pathibhera RM, Bajhang (3 year's working experience with the project)

Before RVWRMP’s intervention all the menstruating women used to stay overnight in chhau-huts. They used to go to the bush for defecation as they couldn’t use toilets, and they were not allowed to use water taps during menstruation. They were not allowed to consume milk and milk products as well as other nutritious food. We conducted a series of trainings, awareness campaigns, and the municipality established a rule to punish those households who discriminate against menstruating women. The municipality also imposed a rule that if any households allow or force their family members to stay in a chhau-hut, the households will not get service from the RM office. More importantly, we raise awareness of people on menstruation as a natural process. Now the situation is improved, and people started to stay at home in a separate room and wash daily using their private tap.


5. Nandi Thagunna, SHP, Marma RM, Darchula (5 years’ working experience with the community and RVWRMP)

Menstruation was considered a sin in Marma RM, and people hated menstruating women. Menstruating women were compelled to stay in cow sheds, and they didn’t wash for four days of menstruation. Similarly, schoolgirls used to drop out of school for a minimum of four days a month. Menstruating women were not allowed to consume milk and dairy products, they couldn’t travel outside, nor use the tap and toilet. They used to use dirty cloths, and nobody was ready to talk about menstruation hygiene management. After many years of effort from the project for awareness-raising, household visits, video and street drama demonstrations, and training for local healers and priests, there are many changes seen. Menstruating girls are attending the school, they are staying in safe and clean locations, and are now allowed to consume nutritious food and green vegetables.


6. Padma Khatri (Field Coordinator) and Sarada Bam SHP Thalara RM, Bajhang. (Working experience with RVWRMP - 3 Years)

MHM, sanitation and the chhaupadi campaign were regular activities in Thalara RM, but women still used to sleep in chhau huts and weren’t allowed to touch the tap and toilet during menstruation. Once RVWRMP provided support to construct private taps in the community, we have seen an astonishing change. The community has been declared a Total sanitation community and are now aiming to declare the municipality as a DMM-friendly community. Men's support and women’s participation is fully encouraged, and they themselves make the rules for the community to make scheme sustainable, maintain total sanitation and eradicate the chhaupadi malpractices. They have been successful in reaching these targets and the community has been named a model community.


7. Khagisara Thapa, SHP, Bhagwatimai RM, Dailekh (3 years of working experience with RVWRMP)

When I was appointed as a SHP, I observed that menstruating women were using unhygienic and dirty places to sleep. They didn't use any materials to absorb their menstrual blood, and their personal hygiene was very poor. My first priority was to orient them on how to make the reusable pads and their use, reuse and proper disposal. After we provided orientations, trainings by RVWRMP to the community mothers’ group proved a good way to spread to MHM knowledge to others. Nowadays, the mothers’ groups and MHM adolescent group support the organisation of many campaigns to reduce MHM and chhaupadi malpractices. After RVWRMP’s interventions, the municipality has issued a DMM directive. The women’s network and other groups such as adolescent groups and female teachers are effectively working to make the community and school DMM-friendly.


Conclusion

We don’t only celebrate one day a year on 28th May as menstrual hygiene day. We are celebrating every day, with different innovative activities to change the attitudes of the community and gradually reduce harmful behaviours. Women now have the skills and materials to manage their personal hygiene and live a dignified life.

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