Menstruation is the natural process where a female bleeds from her vagina every month as a part of the monthly cycle. However, in Nepal, it is still considered to be taboo. According to Plan International, 67% of girls from Nepal are not allowed to attend religious functions while menstruating (Buitenbos, 2021). Most girls might have their own untold stories of their struggles. Here’s my personal experience with period taboo and how I was able to at least bring a small change in my home.
I grew up in Kathmandu, which is the capital city of the country, and had a normal childhood. I belong to a brahmin family, the highest-ranking caste of the four varnas of the caste system as per our cultures in Nepal. Since my family strongly believes in existing caste systems and follows the cultures, I had to go through so many restrictions inside my house. My grandfather as head of the family was very strict about the rules of my house and made sure everyone followed him. As a result of this, when I was a child, I was not allowed to touch my grandfather while he was eating, not allowed to wear slippers inside the kitchen and so many other restrictions. Over the years, I realized that with all these restrictions, my mother was suffering continuously during her periods. When she was on her period she was restricted to touch anything not even the floor carpet and sleeps separately on the ground. The most hurting part for me was that my mother believed that she becomes impure during her monthly cycle and started to accept it as her fate.
I was thirteen years old when I had my first period. It was then when I understood the difficulties that my mother had to face. Menstruation is such a taboo that I was not encouraged to share freely about it even with my mother. I remember struggling with my pads and extreme pains that I managed to overcome by myself. As soon as I had my first bleed, my family took me to a room without sunlight where I was supposed to stay for twelve days as a part of the culture. But since I was studying in grade seven already, dropping my classes for that long was not possible hence resume school from the fourth day.
Another incident after a few years during my period left me shattered. My brother and I were sitting on a terrace in the sun. At that very moment, my grandfather came and sat next to me while I didn’t realize it. My grandmother saw us together and immediately confronted my grandfather saying “why are you sitting with her when she is on her period?” All of a sudden my grandfather stood up and requested my grandmother to bring him a new Janai, a sacred thread. He took a shower just because I got in contact. The very moment was very awful. Thus, I started realizing the feeling of discrimination that girls had to face.
Initially, as a child, I lacked understanding but later started analyzing things happening around me. Firstly, I was not allowed to watch the sun during my first cycle, it was weird for me but I couldn't actually talk about it. Then, my parents always taught me that this period is a shame and we should not talk about it freely. Since Brahmins are considered to be priests and have to be pure as per our cultures, cultural restrictions got multiplied for me. My family also informed me to stay in my room during my menstruation and not to go to any other room. Therefore, I followed them since I was scared to speak up often given that Nepalese society follows a hierarchy within families.
It was Dashain time, the biggest festival of Nepal which is celebrated in almost every part of Nepal. I was fully enjoying the festival as Dashain only comes once a year. Unfortunately, I had my period on the day of Navami, the ninth day of Dashain. The tenth day was Bijaya Dashami, the day when we put on tika. Even though I was scared, I decided to keep it a secret and get tika on Dashami. One of the reasons behind this is I was following continuous stories in social media where many girls shared stories about how they had put on tika during their period. This has also influenced me to follow the same. So on Bijaya Dashami, I got up early, took a shower and got a tika, and did everything as any normal girl would do on the day of Dashami or any other day. I went to temples and to relatives to put tika and even helped my mother in the kitchen yet I didn’t see any differences in things when I touched them. Now, this got me to ignite the curiosity, why my family is imposing those restrictions? As I reached higher grades I realized that this mindset of considering period as a taboo, girls as impure during their monthly cycle are untrue and are creating discrimination against women in society. Menstruation is the normal phenomenon that every woman has to go through every month and it doesn’t have anything to do with the impurities.
Most of the time, I feel happiness and satisfaction inside me despite the fact I was not able to share my story with my family. As a woman, it takes so many years to unlearn things that we were made to feel sorry about which is why somehow keeping secret with my own family during the biggest festival was also breaking me inside sometimes. But, I managed to gather the courage to engage them by conveying a message of dissatisfaction with the period taboos and opted for the smaller transformations. Therefore, after a few days of Bijaya Dashami, I decided to tell my mother about putting on a tika in spite of having my period. I was also prepared for her anger. But to my surprise, she acted normal. She told me “Yes, I think the time has come when we finally change the perception regarding period.” Finally, this gave me the strength that I was doing the right thing and should not feel guilty about it. Then slowly the thought of changing my family’s perception came to my mind. Despite my family being strict I started going inside every room and telling them that nothing will happen and touched the furniture and other things inside the room during my period. Initially, my grandfather and grandmother scolded me for getting inside the room but eventually, they stopped scolding and caring much about me going inside the room during my cycle.
Today, the transformation makes me happy but also aware that there is a long way to go. The changes from the incidents like my grandfather taking a shower and changing his sacred thread after being in contact with me, the Dashain incident when I managed to keep my monthly cycle secret to recently normalizing the contacts, the journey wasn’t easy that many girls might have to go through. Although my grandfather was being liberal about me, I still find it difficult to change his attitude towards being impure. Although it is a long process of changing the mindset of all family members, I personally feel happy to be able to share my story with my mother and get a positive response from her. Therefore, I am continuously working to make awareness and normalizing periods taboo and I am happy to eliminate so many restrictions that we had initially for the long run.
Buitenbos, D. (2021, May 19). 4 FIRST PERIOD STORIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD. Plan International. https://stories.plancanada.ca/4-first-period-stories-from-around-the-world/