Banished because of her body
In parts of western Nepal, some women and girls are banished from their homes to live in huts or animal sheds during their periods. This practice, called chhaupadi, has been illegal in Nepal since 2005. But deeply-held views mean that chhaupadi continues in some communities.
Ishu, 14, is forced to trek to a mountain hut every month when she has her period. “I’m scared to stay alone in the hut,” she says. “I’m scared of ghosts and snakes and some bad people.”
ActionAid has been working in western Nepal for more than 10 years, setting up women’s groups where local women come together to find solutions to the challenges they face. Since then, a number of women have stopped practising chhaupadi and are now campaigning for it to end completely.
Ishu never wants to go back to the hut again. “I’d like to stop these practices, I feel it,” she says.
Periods and girls’ education
It’s estimated that one in 10 girls in Africa will miss school when they have their periods.1 When girls miss several days of school a month, they are more likely to drop out altogether, putting them at greater risk of early child marriage.
ActionAid provides schoolgirls with sanitary towels and works with communities to improve access to toilets so that girls are able to continue their schooling uninterrupted. In our girls’ clubs and girls’ rooms in schools, we help girls get information about periods, sex and pregnancy, so that they are better informed about their bodies.
Keeping girls in school in Rwanda with sanitary towels
Marcelene is 17 and lives in Rwanda. Her family can’t afford sanitary towels, so like many girls at her school she had to stay at home when she had her period.
“I have a very big flow so I felt uncomfortable to come to school,” Marcelene said. “I don’t want to dirty myself.”
Missing school has had a bad impact on Marcelene’s grades as it meant she couldn’t sit some of her exams. But now, ActionAid has provided her school with a room where girls can get sanitary towels.
“It’s a nice room. If you get your period at school you go and change and go back to classes. If I use a pad, I feel so good and comfortable because it soaks the blood so well. If use the cloth I’m always tense that its going to pass through my uniform and stain it, then the boys see it and it becomes the talk of the day,” she said.
“I think it would be good if all schools had a safe room because it helps so many girls, especially those who can’t afford pads from poor families. It encourages them to stay in school.”
Periods and humanitarian disasters
Women who have lost everything as a result of humanitarian crises tell us that amongst the essential items they need most are sanitary towels, wipes and soap. Without sanitary towels, women and girls are forced to use improvised methods to manage their periods, including torn pieces of clothing and rags, which can cause painful infections.
In humanitarian emergencies, ActionAid provides hygiene kits which can include soap, sanitary towels and clean underwear, helping women and girls manage their periods with dignity.
Refugee women and girls can’t afford sanitary towels
13-year-old Wesal’s mother was killed in an airstrike on their home in Syria. Her father and grandmother tried to take Wesal and her sisters to Jordan – but at the border her father was arrested and taken back to Syria. They don’t know if he is dead or alive.
Now, Wesal and her three sisters are being brought up by their grandmother, Azziza, in Jordan. Without their mum and dad, the family are struggling to get by.
Wesal started her period last year when she was 12. Now, Azziza has to face the agonising choice of whether to buy food or sanitary products for her granddaughters when they have their periods.
Sanitary towels changing lives in Malawi
In Malawi, ActionAid is training mums in communities to make reusable, low-cost sanitary towels for the poorest girls. These simple sanitary pads are changing lives.
Before, girls who couldn’t afford sanitary pads felt unable to go to school because they were teased by boys if their clothes became stained. Now, not only are girls able to stay in school, but their mums are also building long-term businesses by selling their extra products at the market. This provides the mums with opportunities to earn an income and support their families.
Sewing reusable sanitary towels
Mother-of-two Ruth’s sewing machine buzzes all day. She’s busy making sanitary towels for girls in Namalusa village, Malawi.
ActionAid provided the sewing machine, and training on how to use it, to her and other mums who were struggling to make ends meet. So far, the mums taking part in this project have made 3,000 pads to be distributed to 600 girls.
“I think the program is good. I’ve benefitted from it, and benefiting others from it,” she said.
One of the girls who has received pads came to her to thank her and say that she was doing better at school because of the pads. Ruth said: “I felt good in my heart, because I never expected I’d be able to make such a difference.”
You may also be interested in…
How access to sanitary products and safe toilets helps keep girls in schools.
Read our latest blogs about periods.
Help women and girls access sanitary towels in a humanitarian disaster.