Teenage girls in a small rural village in Nepal have used the power of photography to help bust the menstrual myths that have imposed many unnecessary restrictions on their lives. Last year, the girls used cameras for the first time to provide a fascinating look into what life was like for them during their period.
Studying, looking in the mirror, and eating fruit were once forbidden during menstruation as it was believed the girls and women would be cursed. It was also once believed that plants would die if touched by someone while on their period.
Using the photos, the girls ran a local exhibition to open up discussion around periods and pass on the lessons about menstrual hygiene they had learned from WaterAid. The girls taught villagers that menstruating women are not ‘contaminated’ and as a result most of the girls have had such restrictions lifted.
They have now produced touching images showing how empowered by the photo project they have driven change in their community and transformed their lives.
The photos were released to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28.
Why can’t we touch water?In this picture my aunt is about to enter a kitchen while carrying a vessel of water. I am still not allowed to touch drinking water during my menstruation. I am not allowed inside the kitchen and I am not allowed to cook. Even though there has been some of the changes I still have a long way to go in changing a lot of things – Rabina, age 17
This is the picture of my sister-in-law. She looks sad because she is having her periods. In our society the issues related to menstruation is largely ignored. There is misconception related to it. Because of the misconception it is hampering young girls. And that’s why they are not being able to advance themselves. In fact, they are suffering. We have to talk about it openly and we should raise our voice to combat this problem. – Rabina.
In this photo my sister is folding pads. After our menstruation we should clean our pads, dry it in the sun properly and keep it in the safe place. If we keep it in a proper place we can easily reuse it as well. – Rita, age 17
When my menstruation started, I wasn’t allowed to eat fruits such as banana, papaya, pomegranate. My family used to say that it is offered to god that’s why we shouldn’t eat it during menstruation. We were not allowed to touch the plant as well, we were told that it will die. My family members used to scold me. But now, they have understood that there is no such thing as being cursed and nothing will happen if we eat it. In fact, these fruits provide us with strength that our body require that’s why now they themselves tell me to eat the fruits. – Rita.
In this is a photo where pad is being disposed. Before when there was no proper space for disposing pads, we had to leave classes and go back home. We didn’t come to school either. 5-6 days every month we would miss out on school. But now girls friendly latrines have been constructed. And it has become easier to attend school. There is a rise in attendance of students as well. – Sushma, age 17
“A year back my parents didn’t allow me to play, visit relatives or go out during my menstruation but, when I expressed my feelings through my photographs, my parents understood me and now they never restrict me in anything. I am very happy that I can do what I want. – Sabina (right), age 15
However, myths still remain as age-old traditions prove difficult to shift. Some of the girls are still not allowed to touch the water source or enter the kitchen during their period.
“I think my pictures have had a positive impact among my peer groups. However, I am still not allowed to touch drinking water during my menstruation. I am not allowed inside the kitchen and I am not allowed to cook. Even though there has been some of the changes, I still have a long way to go in changing a lot of things. – Rabin (centre).
As we celebrate all the achievements of women in this modern world, women and girls – one billion of them – do not have access to a clean, private toilet. The stigma that surrounds periods, compounded by limited access to decent toilets has a negative impact on girls’ education, mental and physical health and well being. Clean water, sanitation and hygiene are one of the essential keys to unlocking so much potential.