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Far-reaching impact of menstrual rights activism

Far-reaching impact of menstrual rights activism
When it comes to menstruation or period in Nepal, there is some sort of silence. Besides a culture of silence, there are taboos and stigma, leading to misinformation and negativity toward this topic. Menstruating individuals (not limited to women) in our country often experience discrimination, restrictions, isolation, and exclusion from various social and religious activities.  It is true that education level and awareness have gradually increased in recent years, with several initiatives being taken and programs or campaigns launched. But are they enough?  Access to menstrual products

The positive aspect is that the work done for menstrual rights in recent times has played a crucial role in challenging the existing taboos, initiating public discussions, and raising awareness for the normalcy of menstruation. 

In cities, sanitary pads are gradually replaced by menstrual cups by young people these days, while the old clothes have been replaced by sanitary pads in many villages, which is a positive sign. Individuals, governments, activists, and civil societies have all made several efforts. One of the primary focuses of menstrual rights work in Nepal has been to ensure access to affordable and menstrual hygiene products. Activists and organizations have worked toward making sanitary pads more accessible, promoting local production, and distributing them in schools and communities. For the approximately 29,000 public schools in Nepal, the government of Nepal has allocated Rs 1.82bn (about $16m) in 2020 for the procurement and distribution of free sanitary pads.  There is the availability and free distribution of sanitary pads in government schools, even in remote locations, which is praiseworthy. There is also a provision for appointing a school nurse and managing the rest room for girl students. Such arrangements have contributed to maintaining menstrual hygiene, girls’ self-esteem, and personal development.  However, quality control and fair distribution of the sanitary products are questionable and mostly unanswered. Although these efforts have been instrumental in addressing the challenges faced by menstruating people who previously had limited access to appropriate menstrual products, a majority of menstruating people still remain far from accessing correct menstrual health information and their rights to dignified menstruation. The goal of menstruation rights advocacy is to make menstrual products more accessible, so it is essential to address the economic aspect of affordability. While initiatives to distribute free or subsidized menstrual products exist, the sustainability and reach of such programs are limited. Activism should focus not only on advocating for rights but also on addressing systemic issues such as poverty and income disparities, which impact menstruating people's ability to afford essential menstrual products. Culture vs advocacy  The major challenge in creating dignified menstruation in Nepal is the delicate balance between promoting change and respecting cultural beliefs. Nepal has a diverse cultural landscape with deeply ingrained traditions and religious practices. Traditional practices and remedies have been passed down through generations and often hold cultural significance. In the pursuit of spreading awareness and education, there is a risk of overlooking valuable local knowledge and practices related to menstrual health.  Menstrual rights activism should strive to incorporate and validate this knowledge, collaborating with local communities rather than imposing external solutions that may not align with their realities. Some activists, in their zeal to eradicate taboos, may inadvertently overlook the need for cultural sensitivity. This approach has led to resistance and backlash from communities that perceive the movement as a threat to their cultural identity.  The demand for an immediate change in how we perceive menstruation is often seen as a threat to religious belief and culture by older generations. Some attack the campaigns with the “dollar agenda” of outsiders, while others accuse them of spreading cultural attacks. Thus, advocacy requires a balanced approach.  Sustainable change requires more than short-term campaigns and initiatives. Menstrual rights activism should prioritize long-term solutions that address infrastructure, healthcare, and education. Without a holistic strategy, supplying menstruation products or awareness workshops may have a positive impact in the short term but may not lead to sustainable change.  Whilst there have been immense efforts to promote menstrual rights and eliminate taboos, there is a risk of inadvertently reinforcing them. The very act of focusing attention on menstruation may unintentionally perpetuate the idea that menstruation is a topic that needs fixing, thereby reinforcing the shame and secrecy surrounding it. To minimize unintentional stigmatization, it is important to find a balance between raising awareness and celebrating menstruation as a natural phenomenon. Breaking the silence  The menstrual rights movement in Nepal has exerted pressure on policymakers, leading to significant policy reforms and protection for menstruating individuals. From the legal arrangements to eliminate the ill practice of Chhaupadi to the customs duty waiver on the import of sanitary pads, some approaches and actions have worked well to some extent. Whilst the government has taken action to address the issue of menstruation hygiene in schools by providing free sanitary pads in public schools and waiving tax on imported menstrual items, the number of people disseminating menstrual health information remains low. For example, in many rural schools, students still report that their teachers are so hesitant during the sexual and reproductive health education chapter that they have to either fast-forward or skip over certain sections. When it comes to discussing and seeking help with issues of menstrual hygiene and health, menstruators and young people still face significant barriers.   The media plays a crucial role in shaping narratives. Thus, digital media should be fully utilized to reach out to the mass with awareness and education on menstruation, as Nepal has huge internet penetration. But at the same time, there should be more engagement with the local communities and more conversations with community members. Most importantly, non-menstruating people or men should also be engaged in breaking the silence.  Despite the fact that menstrual activism in Nepal has brought significant changes, it is important to acknowledge the challenges and unintended repercussions. The commodification of menstrual products, the potential exclusion of transgender individuals from the discourse, and the risk of reinforcing gender stereotypes are concerns that need to be addressed to ensure inclusivity and sustainability.  By addressing these challenges and incorporating diverse perspectives, menstrual rights activism can evolve into a more nuanced, inclusive, and effective movement that brings about tangible improvements in Nepal and beyond.   The authors are the creators of the podcast ‘Period Kaa Kura’