By Sambridhi Pandey
In the present context, it is now becoming normal to see women openly talk about menstruation and stand up against the taboos set by society. Thanks to the awareness raised by media channels, menstruation is no longer a hush-hush topic confined within women but rather a part of a bigger issue which is especially beneficial for the women and girls from underprivileged backgrounds all over the world. It’s great to see so many women and young girls passionately advocating this issue but how often do we see men standing up for a cause like menstrual health and hygiene? I would say it is pretty rare, especially speaking in the context of Nepal, it is quite uncommon to see men open up about a topic like this let alone advocate and work towards it.
Among such rare stories is the story of Ashwin Karki from Kathmandu, Nepal. 20-year-old Ashwin is currently an undergraduate in Development Studies. He has been working to destigmatize periods in Nepal for the past three years while promoting safe and eco- friendly menstrual practices in Nepal.
His quest began with just a project “Promoting safe and eco-friendly menstrual practices in Nepal” as a scholar of Global Ambassador leadership institute by World Experience Foundation. What began as a project soon turned into a passion and Ashwin continued working towards the cause.
When asked about what led him to stay in this path, after all, Ashwin said that facing the lack of knowledge and hygiene practices in his own house with his mother and sister were one of the root causes for him to start doing something about it. Some of the common menstrual practices in Nepal were also an integral part of his household; his mother and sister had to stay away from the kitchen and slept on the floors during their menstrual period. It is a common belief that women during this period are considered “impure” and “untouchable”; therefore, they are secluded from most of the daily activities. He says, “Experiencing all of this, I couldn’t stay quiet as I knew I had to speak up against this social taboo.”
That led him to take different online courses on menstruation and hygiene. Not just that but he also put efforts to research about Cotton reusable pads and started making them as well. “I talked with different organizations regarding periods. More I was into the campaign, meeting new people, it inspired me to work more. I loved talking about this. The curiosity of young girls and boys helped me keep on”.
Ashwin has been working with Amnesty International which helps him support the cause and provide resources he needs to promote his work and initiatives. The organization has been conducting a Human Rights Education program all over Nepal. Along with other issues of Human rights, Amnesty International has also been advocating for menstruation rights to help eradicate the common taboos regarding menstruation from various parts of Nepal.
Ashwin with the help of this organization plans to share a common message that educates everyone about the normalcy of periods and encourage women and girls to be able to speak about it more openly. His initiatives of normalizing periods have also had some results, they cannot be summed up through numbers. It can be categorized in terms of gratefulness he receives from women and girls in his community. Ashwin says he is encouraged when women personally come up to him to tell him how his work has helped them stand against taboos and speak up for themselves.
Taking a path like this is not always easy, especially as a young male adult in Nepal. You will be ridiculed, made fun of, and let down by many people along the way. Speaking of which some of the challenges he faced as he worked for something which is the least, “manly” as many would say, it was surprising to learn from Ashwin, not just the men but even girls sometimes tend to make fun of his efforts. He recalls an incident where he overheard his female classmates speaking by a bathroom, “look at Ashwin posting about pads and periods on his Facebook.” Surprisingly, Ashwin finds this rather something positive than deterring. He says, “Although they were making fun of me, it actually kind of made me happy that they noticed my posts and I became determined to make them involved. Including and involving people that don’t understand is important to me. Eventually, they will learn to take it more positively.”
Ashwin admits it’s not an easy process, he constantly gets laughed at while trying to teach about menstrual hygiene in schools and discussing topics that involve pads and periods. That doesn’t let him down. Instead, he wants the young girls and women to know that some men care and understand their female counterparts and the menstruation process.
Ashwin is determined to make Nepal a “period-friendly” country. By promoting eco-friendly menstruation practices, re-useable pads and open discussion, he wants women on their periods to live comfortably, with dignity and be able to do what they want without the restrictions to participate in regular activities.
In addition, Ashwin’s future plans are to bring more men and women on board to help reach a goal he is still working on. Down the line, his long-term goal revolves around reducing social inequalities and poverty in Nepal.
Hopefully, this story encourages not just women but also men to be open about topics involving menstruation, to try to understand the context and voice against the period stigma. With the involvement of more men, periods will not only be limited to “a female issue” but it will help change the perceptions of the society and eradicate common taboos by becoming a common issue that needs contribution from everyone irrespective of their gender.