Snapshots of stigma and seclusion: Girls in Nepal work with WaterAid to highlight menstrual taboos

24 May 2016

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A fascinating glance into a hidden world is revealed in photos taken by seven teenage girls in Nepal documenting the restrictions imposed on them during their period. The project is part of a campaign by international charity WaterAid to challenge menstrual taboos and call for improved sanitation for women everywhere.

The touching photos reveal that eating with the family, staying in their own home, looking in the mirror, looking at the sun, touching fruit and flowers or even male relatives are all forbidden for girls during their period because menstruating women are considered ‘impure’ or ‘contaminated’.

This stigma that surrounds periods in countries across the world, such as Nepal, compounded by limited access to water, good sanitation and hygiene, has a detrimental impact on girls’ education, mental and physical health and wellbeing.

This was the first time the girls from a small rural village in Sindhuli, Nepal, had ever used a camera, and they proudly exhibited their work in their community to help facilitate open discussion around menstrual taboos.

WaterAid has released the powerful pictures to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May and promote its Toilet Saves Lives petition, which aims to help women get the dignity they deserve.

Manisha, 14, explained how she wasn’t allowed to stay in her home during her first period: “I stayed at someone else’s house during my first period. I wasn’t allowed to go to school and, on top of that, I wasn’t allowed to even read a book. It was a wrong belief that we shouldn’t study during menstruation.”

Bandana, 15, took a photo of a river where she enjoys going. She said: “When I had my first period, my mother restricted from crossing the river. She told me I’d get demons inside me. During my other menstrual cycles, I crossed the river without hesitation, I even bathed and nothing happened to me. I think we should change these kinds of beliefs.”

Barbara Frost, WaterAid’s Chief Executive, said:

“Every day 800 million women have their period, yet most of us consider it an embarrassing and taboo subject.

“As highlighted by these powerful photos from Nepal, the silence and stigma that surround menstruation impinges on girls’ everyday lives. Furthermore, when there are no safe, private toilets in schools, girls often skip school during their period, or drop out of school altogether once they reach adolescence. With nowhere hygienic to clean sanitary pads or wash, women and girls also risk infection.

“Being able to deal with periods in a hygienic and dignified way is crucial to women’s wellbeing. It helps women feel that they are able to play a full role in society, no matter what time of the month. Therefore this Menstrual Hygiene Day, we want to shine a spotlight on this issue to help bring an end to the stigma and ensure that every women and girl has access to water, good sanitation and hygiene by 2030.”

Through a project funded by DFID, WaterAid is working with schools, communities and governments in Nepal and Pakistan to improve girls’ ability to manage their periods through better access to water, toilets and sanitary supplies as well as dispelling the myths that shroud periods. This in turn helps women’s advancement in society, improves women’s health and self-esteem, and helps keep girls in school in a country where 58% of women are illiterate.

Alongside this photo series, WaterAid has produced a light-hearted short film showing common #perioddramas here in the UK to get people talking openly about menstrual hygiene and help break down taboos. Watch the film here >


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See portraits of the girls >

In London: For more information please contact Laura Crowley, Media Officer, on [email protected] or 020 793 4965, or Suzy Vickers, PR Manager, on [email protected] or 020 793 4995.

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Notes to editors:

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation. The international organisation works in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific Region to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 23 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 21 million people with sanitation.

  • Around 315,000 children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That’s nearly 900 children each day, or one child every two minutes.
  • Over 650 million people (around one in ten) are without safe water
  • Over 2.3 billion people (around one in three) live without improved sanitation
  • For every £1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of £4 is returned in increased productivity.
  • Just £15 can help provide one person with access to safe water.