We Bleed. Period. “Let’s not be afraid of who we are” – a story of periods in Nepal.
Ruby, the CEO of WUKA period underwear, returned to her home country of Nepal last month, as a keynote speaker on ‘Innovations in Menstrual Products’.
Ruby said: ‘I was very honoured that our work at WUKA is being noticed, and of course, it was exciting to be part of this important conference in my country of birth. There is so much work to do in Nepal, but it was also inspiring to meet with so many women determined to make periods a positive experience”
Ruby was speaking at MenstruAction: A Summit to ensure that every girl in Nepal can thrive during her period.
The conference brought together around 500 leading experts, practitioners, researchers and youth representatives, and focused on issues around the onset of menarche, menstrual health, sustainable menstrual hygiene and protection against ‘period poverty’ so that ‘every girl and woman can thrive during her period’. It encouraged the many womens’ groups already working on menstruation issues in Nepal to make sure that girls grow up with a positive approach to periods, and have access to safe, hygienic period wear.
Nepalese women face significant challenges with menstruation; many girls cannot even afford underwear, let alone menstrual products.
With the help of a German charity, a new income-generating initiative is starting up in two locations; using Indian-made machines that produce locally manufactured sanitary pads.
Among the subjects discussed at the conference were: water, sanitation and hygiene; education and learning; menstrual health; innovations and sustainability.
Just a few weeks ago, we heard the tragic news of yet more avoidable deaths in Nepal, due to the illegal practice of chauupadi, where women are banished to sleep in ‘period huts’ when they are menstruating. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/jan/10/mother-and-two-boys-suffocate-in-nepal-latest-period-hut-tragedy
This time, a young mother died with her two sons, after they had lit a fire to keep warm inside the freezing mud hut but were overcome by fumes. Watch the video to find out more about Chauupadi:Ruby said: “Girls and women in Nepal face many challenges around menstruation. In many areas of the country women and girls are still seen as impure and ‘untouchable’ during their period. Even when chauupadi is not practised, many girls cannot afford hygienic pads, and may not have proper toilet facilities or running water.
“ Period poverty and misogynistic attitudes make it hard for girls to take part in normal life, social activities, or even attend school when they have their period”
“That’s why we have decided that WUKA should provide charitable help to the girls in Nepal. We were able to donate over two dozen pairs of WUKA, gifted through our customers who took part in our special promotion last year. But we realised that the biggest issue for girls is that they cannot even afford underwear so that they can use sanitary pads. So we will be looking at how we can help with this most basic need.”
Ruby was on a panel which included Ms Sama Shrestha from UN Women, and representatives from education and the National Health Research Centre.
One of the questions Ruby discussed was about taxation on menstrual products. (Yes! The tampon tax exists in Nepal too. For those of us in the UK we pay 5% tax on all sanitary products – including WUKA. The UK government has legislated for a zero rate soon as current EU rules change, or Brexit happens – whichever is the quickest.) Read more about the Tampon Tax here: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/period-time-of-month-tampon-tax-menstruation-a8509481.html
Other questions for Ruby were on the innovations such as period underwear, and about sustainable menstrual products.
At one stage in the conference Ruby was asked why anyone would spend their money on a pair of WUKA period pants, when they could use sanitary pads much more cheaply. Ruby realised that the country still hadn’t come to terms with the huge issue of plastic waste that was already being generated, as Western goods are increasingly being sold, with single-use plastics embedded in them. “I was shocked to realise that many people in Nepal hadn’t even heard of the problem of plastic waste pollution” said Ruby.
In fact nearly 4.8 Million plastic bags used daily just in Kathmandu
But there is some light emerging and Ruby met a young person from an inspiring new enterprise, Doko Recycling, which has set about providing recycling services in Kathmandu. They say:
“it’s hard to be oblivious to the fact that Nepal is choking under its own garbage and we are choking with it!”
And, of course, most commercial sanitary pads are also made with single-use plastics, which will not decompose, and will create an even bigger plastic waste problem. While Ruby is convinced that using WUKA will always be more cost-effective in the long-term, and make an enormous impact on plastic waste reduction, it is understandable that short-term cost is a big issue in the country.
“I was super enthusiastic to talk about periods at the conference, and there were many conversations. It’s a different story in such a poor country, but also incredibly inspirational to hear the changes that many women are making. I came away convinced that WUKA should do some work to try and help Nepalese girls thrive on their periods”.
The youngest participant at the conference was an 11-year-old girl who was asked for her opinion of the event, and said: ‘I learned that we should not be afraid of what we are and if we bleed.
And that is something that women all over the world can identify with.
We bleed. Period.