Many women in rural Jhapa, the south-easternmost district of Nepal, hide uterine and sexual problems, lest they have to face discrimination from their family and society at large. They fear their husbands would look for another wife, neighbors would taunt them and people would not eat the food they touch, if they come to know about these illnesses. “My vaginal discharge smells so foul that I sometimes have to change my clothing twice a day. When I told my husband about it, instead of taking me to the hospital, he got another wife. Many women in my village do not talk about their problems fearing they would have to share my fate,” says a 30-year-old woman from Gauriganj rural municipality. She is yet to get any treatment.
Another 40-year-old woman of Kachankawal suffers from a similar problem. For several months, she has been getting stomach aches, discharging a foul-smelling fluid from her vagina and having difficulty urinating. And she does not feel like eating because of the pain. But she has not told her family and husband about her problem. She fears that if her family finds out, they might mistreat her and not eat what she cooks. “That would be a matter of huge shame. It’s much better this way. All I have to do is bear this pain,” she says.
These women are not aware that these problems can be cured if treated on time. Yet no organization or local level government body has launched an awareness campaign on this.
There are health posts in the village but women fear that others would know about their health problem if they go there. One of them says, “There are many people from the village who visit this health post, and it is certain that we would meet someone from our village there. If one person finds out about our condition, they would tell other people and soon the whole village would know.”
Teenage pregnancy and problems
Generally women are able to give birth when they reach the age of 20. But in the southern part of Jhapa, girls usually get married when they are around 16. By the time they are 19, they have a child. Health workers say pregnancy at such a young age can lead to reproductive and other health problems.
Bishnu Bhattarai, an auxiliary nurse midwife at Kachankawal rural municipality, says many men seek employment abroad once they have a baby and women hide their problems because they may not have anyone close to share them with. The problem is so bad that only if we go and ask women personally will some of them talk about their illness,” she says. Bhattarai adds that many rural women have sexual problems.
Health workers in Jhapa claim it’s hard to conclude women from which age group suffers most from these problems. Dr Jaya Kumar Thakur, an obstetrician at the Mechi Zonal Hospital, says, “Some show signs of uterine diseases when they are around 25. Others reveal it only when they reach 70.”
Urban women get treated
Between 20 and 25 women visit the Mechi Hospital every day seeking treatment for sexual diseases, says Dr Thakur. Most of them are from urban areas. Doctors say that sexual diseases get severe if not treated early. Awareness programs on sexual and uterine diseases in rural areas would be useful, he adds.