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Leanne Hall was had her placement in Nepal with ICS. Since she arrived back in the UK, and as part of her Action at Home phase, she has started a project distributing menstruation cups to women and girls in rural Nepal. This is helping to end period stigma and allowing women to be period positive

From an ICS placement to a global movement

Period stigma is a global issue, affecting the livelihoods, education and health of girls and women.

As ICS Team Leaders, Preeti Bhandari and I lived in the rural community of Khurkot in the Sindhuli district of Nepal. We were warmly welcomed into the circles of women especially and became their sisters and their daughters.

Our close relationship meant the women spoke freely about the issues they faced in everyday life – one of the most troubling being their struggle with female health issues. We wanted to help  them as much as possible, so we set up a meeting with a local female health specialist.

We were hoping to gather more information on the topics the women were most worried about. By the end of the meeting a free Women’s Health Day over three local villages had been confirmed.

The women’s health days were a great success! We provided a check-up service to 184 women – the youngest of these women was 17 years old  and the oldest 90. Our highlight  was the female health seminar we provided, covering  a range of issues from urinary tract infection to breast checks, contraceptives to menstrual hygiene.

Women and girls in the community started speaking out against period stigma

This is where our WiseCup! project began. During our talk we decided to introduce menstrual cups –  a reusable, washable, easy-to-use sanitary cup made out of silicone. Their popularity in the UK and other countries is rapidly increasing due to their simplicity.  

Why did we think menstrual cups would be a good option? Access to alternative sanitary products is limited in these rural Nepali villages. Sanitary towels can be an expensive method, and in an environment where field work is a daily routine, it is not a very comfortable one.

The traditional cloth is also used here. Although cheaper, not only does it have the same drawbacks as using a towel, the women’s reluctance to drying the cloth outside, means that it can harbor harmful bacteria. You see, there are strong embedded taboos in some Nepali cultures surrounding periods. The one which has been highlighted most in the media is the practice of Chhaupadi.

Women are banished to the cow sheds during their periods, deemed unclean and are forbidden to bathe. This has lead to the death of a number of women and girls in Nepal, and although now banned throughout the regions, it is still practiced in some villages. Thankfully it was not practiced in our village, however some women would sleep outside and not be allowed to bathe during menstruation.

Since the project began, women and girls are now more open when speaking about their menstrual hygiene and health

At first we thought the idea of a menstrual cup would be rejected, seen as very strange by women who hadn’t even seen a tampon before. You can imagine how happy we were  for the cups to be met with intrigue and understanding, even though there were a few giggles and shocked expressions here and there!

We signed up 50 women in Sindhuli over the Women’s health days and after leaving the region Preeti and our friend Amrita signed up a further 21 women in their hometowns around Kathmandu.

Women and girls are taught how to use the menstrual cups

Supporting the project from the UK

I was sad to leave Nepal, but eager to start the UK side of the project. I set up a project page and a  fundraising page, I spoke at events in my local area and I got in touch with menstrual cup companies to sponsor us. OrganiCup messaged back full of support, intrigue, discounts and donations.

They made it possible to reach our target quicker, as well as provide the women with a high quality product which will last them for years. So, many posts, videos, and links later we finally reached our target and the project could take a step forward.

Packaged and posted, three full boxes flew towards Kathmandu. Distribution in the Sindhuli villages could begin with help from the local NGO, YSP Nepal, whom we worked closely with during ICS.

Women and girls in the community have started using the menstrual cups

We were nervous the women would have lost interest, maybe would have re-thought the use of a menstrual cup, but again we were met with interest and openness. The distribution days went amazingly and the refresher seminar that made sure the women fully understood how to use them, even better. Further distribution to the women in Kathmandu saw the project complete. 71 women with access to a reusable and healthy sanitary product.

So many questions lingered throughout the project:will the women accept a strange sounding idea? Will people donate? Will companies support us? Will we be able to work cross culturally, in different countries?

What this project has shown me  is that if you don’t try you will never know, and that taking the first step can lead you to being a positive change in someone’s life. Or in this case 71 lives.

To read more about Restless Development’s work to end period stigma in Nepal, read a story in Refinery 29 about how our youth advocate Bhagirathi is working to end period stigma in her community. 
Learn how Natalie Cleverley worked in India on her ICS placement to deliver workshops on menstruation

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