SHE Nepal is a volunteer organization founded in 2017 that works to raise awareness on women’s health issues in various parts of Nepal.
The organization’s founder, Dr. Garima Shrestha, came up with the concept of raising women’s awareness while completing her MBBS at Manipa College of Health Sciences, Pokhara University.
Shrestha says, “I don’t face any restrictions at home during my menstrual cycle. But when I was away from home, I witnessed a lot of problems related to women’s health. So, as a medical student, I felt it was my responsibility to create awareness and education among women in different places. And when I told my parents about this topic, they were very supportive.”
SHE Nepal has been conducting awareness campaigns for women in different rural areas of the country.
It should be noted that women living in urban areas have a variety of options, including luxury sanitary pads, while other women living in rural areas are limited to simple pads or homemade pads.
In my visits to many different places, I found that the government provides disposable sanitary pads in rural areas,” Dr. Shrestha said. But a pad can last four to six hours, even with a little bleeding. So, disposable pads don’t work well for women in rural areas because it’s hard for them to afford them on their own, leading them to revert to using cloth as sanitary pads. Therefore, She Nepal came up with the idea of making their own reusable cloth pads.
To address such problems faced by women in rural areas, the nonprofit organization brought together a group of women to make sanitary pads, which also opened the door to employment for the women involved. In addition, reusable sanitary pads are more environmentally friendly.
To date, more than 10,000 reusable pads have been distributed to communities in Jhore, Panauti and Chitwan.
Dr. Shrestha said she never imagined the organization would expand to this extent in a short period of time. Various groups, including the Laut and Chitwan communities, have even asked for more notebooks.
It wasn’t easy at first, Shrestha recalls, because talking about women’s reproductive health is taboo in Nepal. Providing information, or even talking openly about the issue, was not an easy task.
“For outreach activists, it was very difficult to discuss the menstrual cycle with people. In Nepal, our culture and traditions make us all believe that menstruation is a time of sin. Women are considered untouchable and are forbidden to engage in various activities. And whenever I tell them that it is okay to enter the kitchen, cook, or visit the temple, many are shocked and wonder if I want them to go against custom or religion. But when I explain to them that this is a biological process that every woman has to go through, they lose their temper and rebuke me.” – Dr. Shrestha said.
In western Nepal, people practice “Chhaupadi Prata,” in which women and girls are banished and isolated in a dirty hut during their periods. They believe that during this period, the woman or girl becomes unclean and cannot be touched without hurting even the entire family. There are reports of many women and girls dying in the huts during this period due to snake bites or due to negligence.
“There are two types of Chaupadi Prat in Nepal: the tangible and the invisible. Obviously, we know that people in western Nepal have this practice, but people in urban areas like Dharam, Pokhara and Kathmandu also have different practices. Some of my friends in Kathmandu still complain that the restrictions prevent them from doing various activities, do not allow them to go to the kitchen, and are even forced to live in isolation during this time. I call it the invisible Chhaupadi,” Shrestha explains.
Feminine hygiene is still a very important topic of discussion in Nepal, but not many people are prepared for it. It’s not just about the taboos surrounding menstruation, but also about female reproductive organs.
When we talk about feminine hygiene, we are not just talking about menstruation, but also about the way we take care of our genitals,” says Dr. Shrestha. Most women tend to use soap and water when cleaning their vaginal parts, but the harsh chemicals in soap can destroy the beneficial bacteria that naturally help keep them clean. Therefore, it is best to use water only for daily cleansing.”
Meanwhile, the She Nepal program raises public awareness about sexual hygiene and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by reaching out to people. The main goal is to make people aware of hygiene issues and take steps to prevent risks before it’s too late to let someone else diagnose them.
In addition to working on menstrual hygiene, we wanted to launch a public awareness campaign about STDs because there are many cases where people are unaware of the infections they may have and thus go undetected,” Shrestha said. This is also a big problem for the country.”