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It's Time For Nepal To Face Its Cruel Menstruation Taboo

Nepal outlawed forced isolation for menstruating women nearly two decades ago. But the practice continues, threatening the ability of many women to lead a normal life.

SUDURPASCHIM, NEPAL — Earlier this year, at the beginning of March, Sirjana woke up with a bad stomachache. It was near midnight, and the village — clusters of houses, about four dozen or so, sprinkled on the side of a hill, separated by terraced fields — was still. As per custom, the toilet was located outside the house, so she drowsily stumbled out of bed to use it. That’s when she realized she’d started her period. She froze, unable to re-enter her house.

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The Slow March To Emancipation For Women In South Sudan

More than half of girls in South Sudan are married before they turn 18, and only 1.3% still attend school at age 16.

JUBA — In the studio of Advance Youth Radio, in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Eva Lopa concludes her weekly program. Outside, night is falling.

Focused, Lopa thanks her guests — a high school poet and a representative of the Okay Africa Foundation — who have just spent an hour talking with listeners. Unaffordable feminine hygiene products and the lack of sanitary facilities in schools were on that evening's agenda for the show, Gender Talk 211, which discusses the place of women in society, their contribution to the struggle for liberation in South Sudan, and menstruation.

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In India, A Manual And Movement To Talk Openly About Menstruation

-Analysis-

CHENNAI — "What is this?," my curious seven year old asked, picking up a pack of sanitary napkins, as I found just the right position to take a picture to accompany an article on a menstrual hygiene movement in Chennai.

I paused for a minute, and replied, "These are like thin diapers that girls wear for around one week every month."

I was caught off guard, and mentally kicked myself for the diaper reference. He looked suitably impressed with the design on the package and inspected the pads as well. We don't have cable TV so he hasn't been treated to the "happy period" advertisements with girls frolicking in white outfits, or sanitary napkins looking more suited to soaking up ink than body fluids.

So, this was my chance. I took out a pad and said, "You know how I don't feel my best sometime during the month? Well, on those days, I have my period. It's when the tissue in my baby pouch aka the uterus is shed."

He has seen pregnant women in the family, so is familiar with the term uterus.

We never really talked about periods openly at my all-girls school, or among friends.

It's not easy explaining the inner workings of a uterus to kids under 10. So I started small — with the baby pouch in my belly that prepares for an embryo every month (embryo, like the ones they've studied in science). But when there is no baby inside, the uterus has to shed the tissue, and so adolescent girls and women have to use a pad, tampon or a menstrual cup to collect that body fluid. I explained related conditions like stomach cramps, body pain, general discomfort and changes in mood.

My son now understands when I have a body ache around my period and even gives me space on his lap to take a nap if I'm visibly in pain. It's a relief, compared to the hushed "Aunt Flo" or "Mother Nature" references we made when I was in school. Back then, purchasing pads was an adventure in itself. Wrapped in newspaper and then covered in a black plastic bag, they'd be passed gingerly across a shop counter. I'm sure contraband was available with less shame.

It feels like a lifetime ago, when I hit puberty. My father, a doctor, would throw around medical jargon at the dinner table, and biology was his pet subject. So I had heard of ovaries, uteruses and the like before I hit menarche.

I remember the day it happened, all women do. My mother came over, handed me a packet of sanitary napkins, and explained what was happening to my body and what would follow. My grandmother, who lived with us at the time, was a repository of wisdom and warmth. She told me how this was something normal, that all girls go through it and that I should talk to dad and mom if I was in pain or uncomfortable.

Health workers distributing free sanitary pads — Photo: Abhisek Saha/SOPA Images/ZUMA

It was a very matter-of-fact talk. But we never really talked about periods openly at my all-girls school, or among friends. We only knew to say something if we spotted a stain on a skirt, and would quickly pass a sweater to wrap around it.

I wish I had access to something like the Menstrupedia manual back then. It's an informative and age-appropriate comic, handed out at schools across the country now.

I discovered it only recently. It introduces the concept of menstruation with the right biology, yet with empathy and a sense of curiosity that sits well when you approach a nine or 10 year old. The manual, translated into 15 Indian and foreign languages, has found traction among parents and educators alike. I highly recommend it to anyone gearing up for "the talk."

The time is ripe for such conversations. In 2018, Period. End Of Sentence., a short film on the culture around menstruation in India, won the Academy Award for best documentary (short subject) and Pad Man in Bollywood dramatized the story of the ‘Menstrual Man," Arunachalam Muruganantham.

Just this month, Zomato announced paid period leave for its employees. There is thankfully more visibility for conditions like endometriosis and PCOS/PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome/Disorder) as young celebrities like Sara Ali Khan open up about their struggles. And on the Humans of Bombay site, a recent post brought into focus the story of Rutuchakra, a movement started by a teenager in 2018 to address conversations around menstrual hygiene.

We still have miles to go to normalize the conversation around menstruation, across the yawning rural-urban chasm. But simple conversations at home, with children across the gender spectrum, go a long way.

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Ancient Menstrual Quarantines Still Oppress Women In Nepal

Last year, the Nepalese government outlawed the chhaupadi tradition that bans certain activities on menstruating women. But little has changed.

KATHMANDU — When Binita had her first period, she knew what she had to do. Growing up in the mountainous district of Gorkha in central Nepal, she had observed how her mother and every other female family member changed their behavior when they had their period: They slept in different rooms, were not allowed to touch water, food or male family members, couldn't enter the kitchen and couldn't take part in religious ceremonies.

Much has changed in Binita's life since her teenage years. She's now 37 years old, married with two teenage sons and lives in an apartment on the outskirts of the capital, Kathmandu.

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Germany
Clara Ott

"Menstrual Leave" For Working Women Divides Feminists

Though a number of Asian countries have special menstrual leave policies for working women, the West hasn't embraced the notion, in part because feminists have rejected the idea. But now a UK company has adopted time off for women facing monthly p

BERLIN — For many women, the menstrual cycle can complicate fulfilling work responsiities. This raises a question: should female workers be allowed to take sick leave because of pain during their periods, or be required to take the time off as annual leave?

A company in Bristol, UK is introducing a "period policy" to allow women extra time off as needed every month. It's not a new idea, though it's virtually unheard of in the West.

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