WaterAid Photo Series Documents Menstrual Taboos In Nepal, And The Results Are Powerful

Even today, menstruation is seen as a source of shame and contamination in many society. Unfortunately, such stigmas are so entrenched that breaking them down is easier said than done. However, a recent WaterAid photo series documenting menstrual taboos in Nepal is a reminder of the importance of speaking openly about the subject — not just because periods are a natural fact of life, but because such stigmatization perpetuates misinformation that can have lasting, and sometimes life-threatening, consequences.

To demonstrate the effect of menstrual taboos on sanitation, the international nonprofit WaterAid asked seven girls in a rural village in Nepal to photograph their lives during their periods. Although Chhaupadi, a tradition in which girls and women are banished to huts and cattle sheds during their periods and shortly after giving birth, was outlawed by the government in 2005, periods are still associated with impurity in Nepalese culture (as well as many others around the world). As a result, women and girls are considered unclean and expected to follow different rules over the course of their periods: Staying home from school, for instance — indeed, according to the organization Her Turn, 30 percent of Nepalese girls miss school due to their periods each month — or refraining from touching certain objects for fear of contamination.

Released on Menstrual Hygiene Day last month, WaterAid's photo series allows the girls of Nepal's Sindhuli district to show just how restricted life becomes every time they get their period. Each image is accompanied by a short caption written by the girl who took the photo, explaining the scene and how it impacts her daily life.

Bandana Khadka's mother feeds her sister, but Bandana eats separately when she has her period. "We need lots of love and support during our menstruation[,] but when I am separated and treated like an untouchable I feel no love from my mother and father and I feel only hatred," she wrote.

The girls are also asked to stay away from social gatherings and avoid objects like plates, food, and mirrors. One girl, Sabina Gautam, noted that she wasn't allowed to eat papaya or touch papaya trees during menstruation, while Rabina Budhathoki snapped a photo of a cow that she couldn't milk.

"In our society, we are not supposed to touch [a] cow, its dung or its milk during menstruation," she explained. "But I think this is wrong and just a superstition that we are blindly following."

Sushma Diyali takes a photo of a mirror, which many of her friends are told to avoid during their period. "In our society, when girls experience their first menstruation we are not allowed to look into mirrors or comb our hair. ... I have many friends whose families are really strict about these practices and as a result, most of my friends were not allowed to look themselves in the mirrors and comb their hair," she wrote.

The girls also documented how the culture of shame affects their hygiene — many schools don't provide menstrual supplies or adequate bathrooms, and women often wash and dry their pads in isolated places.

"As highlighted by these powerful photos from Nepal, the silence and stigma that surround menstruation impinges on girls’ everyday lives. .. Being able to deal with periods in a hygienic and dignified way is crucial to women’s wellbeing," WaterAid Chief Executive Barbara Frost said in a statement. "It helps women feel that they are able to play a full role in society, no matter what time of the month."

Check out a few more photos below:

A woman washes dishes in a water source upstream from her village. "In this irrigation canal, people wash their dishes and also wash clothes and menstruation pads. ...While using water in this way, the water may look clear but it could cause many water borne diseases," photographer Bisheshta Bhandari explained.

Rita Baral used to bathe alone in this irrigation canal early in the morning to avoid being seen by men during her period. "Since it used get dark early in the morning, I used to get scared. ... I have my sister and I will never let my sister to go alone in this place," she wrote.

Bisheshta Bhandari's grandmother doesn't allow her menstruating granddaughter nearby for fear of contaminating the thread lights. "When she is preparing those threads, she tells me not to come near her or not to touch her as she is preparing them for God," she wrote. "During my menstruation when somebody comes and tells me to not to do this and that or restricts me from doing things, I get very angry."

To view the entire series, head over to WaterAid's website.

Images: Courtesy of Bandana Khadka, Sushma Diyali, Bisheshta Bhandari (2), Rita Baral/WaterAid,