Shame, secrecy and seclusion

WaterAid/Sushma Diyali

Ina small rural village in Sindhuli, Nepal, 15-year-old Sushma and her friends share a common experience. When each of them got their first period, they were sent away from their homes, to make sure they didn’t come into contact with their male relatives.

This is just one of the deeply-held superstitions that surround menstruation in the girls’ community — along with not being able to look in a mirror, eat papaya or drink cow’s milk.

Here, using cameras for the very first time, Sushma and six of her friends document the taboos they face every month, and the profound impact they have on their daily lives and relationships.

The girls holding their profile photos after the photo exhibition. (L-R) Sushma, Bisheshta, Bandana, Sabina, Rabina, Manisha and Rita
The girls holding their profile photos after the photo exhibition. (L-R) Sushma, Bisheshta, Bandana, Sabina, Rabina, Manisha and Rita.
WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya

Rabina: my first experience

I had gone to collect grass and firewood when I got my first period. I never knew menstruation was about bleeding, so when I started I got very scared. There was no one to help me. I didn’t know how to use pads and had a hard time coping with the changes. That’s why I try to help younger girls.

Rabina and her friend carrying grass in baskets on their backs
WaterAid/Rabina Budhathoki

Manisha: Eating papaya is not a sin

This is my aunt slicing papaya. During our period we are not allowed to eat fruits like papaya, mango and banana. But when I had my first period, I ate papaya and nothing bad happened to me. Eating fruit during your period is healthy and papaya is one of my favourites. It’s not a sin at all.

Manisha's Aunt slicing papaya outside her home
WaterAid/Manisha Karki

Bandana: my best friend

This is my best friend Manisha. She has helped me in every moment of my life. During my period I used to suffer from headaches, vomiting and stomach aches. She helped me by bringing me medicine.

Bandana's best friend Manisha sitting on a bridge
WaterAid/Bandana Khadka

Sabina: Are brothers untouchable?

These are my brothers. Pujan is on the left, Bimal is in the middle and Uttam is on the right. During my first period I was kept in my friend’s house. I was told not to see male members of my family. I don’t think it will make any difference if I touch my brothers. I wish my younger sisters would not go through all these hardships.

Sabina's brothers: Pujan (left), Bimal (middle) and Uttam (right)
WaterAid/Sabina Gautam

Rabina: Menstruation — my pride

This is where I wash myself and my pads. But when there are men around the tap I feel uncomfortable. We are told that we are not supposed to wash our used pads in front of men, so I do it when there’s nobody around.

The water tap in the village where Rabina washes herself and her pads
WaterAid/Rabina Budhathoki