It was exactly one year back when we had this idea to distribute sanitary pads to women in the Limi Valley as the lockdown had made it hard for them to access essential goods. Limi Valley is a beautiful trans-Himalayan community located in the north-western corner of Nepal. Access to the region is immensely restricted due to the lack of proper transportation infrastructure.
After brainstorming for a couple of days, we thought reusable cloth pads would be a long-term sustainable solution for them instead of disposable pads since periods are a continuous process for every woman. Disposable pads would have been a temporary solution as with the same amount the women would have sufficient pads for only two months. Thus, began our journey to find good quality cloth pads.
With some research and inquiry, we decided to collaborate with Eco Femme – a non-profit organization located in Auroville, India under their “Pads for Sisters” program. Under this program, they offer organic cotton cloth pads in bulk at a discounted price so that projects like ours can afford to donate them to economically disadvantaged women.
Thus, we started “Ecopad Project Limi Valley Humla Nepal” with an aim to donate Eco-Friendly Reusable Cloth Pads and simultaneously to conduct a Menstrual Hygiene workshop in Limi Valley.
We created a GoFundMe account to raise funds for the project and by July 2021, we had received enough funds to make this project happen.
THE DISTRIBUTION JOURNEY
This journey with a purpose towards the mountain trails in northwestern Nepal was truly an experience of a lifetime. It was a different feeling to witness the project being manifested right in front of our eyes after having worked hard for many months.
While planning the workshop, we were doubtful whether the women would participate openly or not. Like most villages in Nepal, the women in Limi still face serious challenges when it comes to managing their periods. Periods are still considered taboo and a matter of embarrassment.
We were amazed to receive one hundred percent participation from the women in each village and a two-way discussion throughout the workshop. Sharing our knowledge, empathizing with the toughness of their village life, listening to stories that they normally would hesitate to share, and seeing the gratitude in their eyes made us blissful.
We had taken 500 underwear and 1500 pads for an estimated number of 250 women. However, there were currently only 171 menstruating women in Limi Valley. So, we distributed the additional pads equally in each village.
LEARNING AND REFLECTIONS
The initial response to the pads was wonderful.
The women liked the feel and quality of the pads from Eco Femme. They were surprised by the fact that they were receiving sanitary pads made of cotton and which can be reused for a few years.
Were we able to convince them to wear the pads?
As per our survey, the majority of women above 35 years were using pads made from rags.
The majority of the younger women especially those below 30 years were mostly using disposable sanitary pads and sometimes pads made from rags.
The women either throw the disposable pads into the river or dump them into nearby lands. Although most of them regret this habit, they are left with little or no choice.
After understanding the environmental effect of their waste disposal method and the cost-effectiveness of the reusable pads, all of them agreed to try out the Eco Femme Reusable Cloth Pads.
What basic health and hygiene did we focus on?
We got a positive response when asked if they maintain the most basic yet important habit of washing hands. The younger school-going children even shared the experience of properly washing their hands with soap.
We gave examples of Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and how sharing their pain with their mother or family member can make their life easier.
We advised them to change the underwear daily and the eco pads after every 6-8 hours depending on the period flow.
How did we tackle Period shame?
It is most difficult to change people’s perceptions. Similarly, we had a tough time addressing period shame and communicating the importance of talking about periods to men in a shame-free manner.
How could we make the women appreciate their body and the natural process of menstruation and its role in fertility when they believed that women are inferior due to periods? Some even complained about additional expenses for daughters as they have to buy them bras and sanitary napkins.
Initially, most of them went against talking to men about periods. But we emphasized to begin just one small change, to which the majority agreed- To stop period shame in their own family and talk freely with their father, brother, and husband about period-related topics to create a ripple effect in the entire community.
Collecting enough donations was no doubt the first challenge of the project. However, traveling to Limi Valley was the harder part of the project due to the lack of transportation and unreliable road conditions. One cannot go with a fixed schedule and needs to be very flexible.
Sanitation facilities are inadequate in the entire Limi Valley and the lack of functional latrines in the houses can be difficult at times.
Our volunteers at the local level will take feedback and evaluate the project outcomes. If successful, we plan to distribute the next batch of pads within 2-3 years. If not successful, we plan to visit Limi again to evaluate the situation.
Anyone interested to support our Project, kindly mail us.
Thank you for reading!
Thinley Wangmo Lama