Menstrual Restrictions: Nutritional Concern of Women and Girls

Menstrual Restrictions: Nutritional Concern of Women and Girls

by Radha Paudel
Flashback of Wartime in Nepal
I love Lamra village of Jumla in many ways. I have Miteri-mutual love and respect regardless caste, class, gender, region etc. family here since 2002 where as I had special attachment with this village since 2001. In 2001, I was walking through the Hanku village towards Khalanga, headquarter of the Jumla district, as done supervisory role of national polio program. I started from Katikswami, just across the Tila river. Today, Lamra is only 8 km far from the head quarter but those days the life was totally different so Maoist Insurgent dared to organize their program at Durga high school, Lamra. There was nothing such as phone, electricity, road or anything. I was walking on foot trail; I didn’t hear or see anything regards to the noise or program or anything. Suddenly, two combatants with AK 47 approached to me and caught me right away and brought inside the school. I saw that the school was encircled by layers of the combatants. Inside, there were about 300 people gathered and the formal program was in progress. They brought to us (I have friend from hospital as accompany) just in front of the row of guests in row. Here, I didn’t like to talk everything in details, I just like to say, I survived.  It was so awful moment because I was new in Jumla so far. Since that day, I have somehow attachment with this school and village.
September 2015
I was conducting a series of trainings for village leaders; men and women who are working as faith healers, Female Community Health Volunteers and so on. I strongly believed that the transformation should come from bottom so I have been engaging with village leaders since long.
The way I have been living in village, many people often don’t believe or imagine. They are merely illiterate though passionate and commitment towards change. They took risks and challenges at their personal lives, at community and society at large. Usually, I spent a week in a village so villagers would build trust and confidence on me, my work or campaign.  I was at Pancheswor Cooperative in mid-September 2015 as a follow up of my training program.
A Female Community Health Volunteer denied to eat breakfast in a group. I simply remained quiet and observed the comments of her friends. She was saying that she had tooth ache so she could not eat food along with us. I validate the information on why she hadn’t had the breakfast. It was because there might women participants who have period and the hotel who was preparing the food, might not practicing restrictions while they have period or many women who have period came and eat inside the hotel. The entire logic of not eating is contaminated by women who have period a form or the other who are considered as untouchable or pollutant.
I was really sad, because she has been working as health volunteer since last 17 years and she is not changed yet, how can we imagine from others. More importantly, Lamra is like urban city except two dalit (so called untouchable caste) communities. I questioned myself on impact against my tireless efforts. I really didn’t like to continue my training discussion but no way. I did.
When everyone was going towards hotel where our lunch supposed to prepare. The hotel owner also from Terai and had inter-caste marriage and has two young daughters.  I was following same health volunteers and also declared that I didn’t eat anything too.  Few participants were surprised me and requested to eat. But denied till the health volunteer came to ask me to eat. While she asked, I said why didn’t you eat? I did not like because I was failed, my followers are just talkers not doers. I was here for actions, I am doing all my voluntary work for the sake of women and girls in Jumla and you people were cheating me. I really don’t like to continue this training.
Finally, that lady came and asked me, I was just worried about my toothache. I explained why her teeth ache and why Jumla people lose their teeth when they are quite young. I explained that our oral cavity was dirty as our anal cavity even right after the tooth brush. Then, we have long discussion about caste and menstruation by giving various examples of hotels, pilots, nurses, doctors etc. About an hour discussion, she said, let’s go for eat. We joined the group and ate together.
Next day, I escaped the breakfast in group because it was so hot and spicy. I have allergy with both, I get sick right away including very bad diarrhoea.  But I was peeping to the kitchen where a young girl was baking bread (handmade) from millet flour. I approached towards her kitchen, asked few questions about her study and family and asked for bread to eat.  She allowed me. We built friendship and I invited her to join training if she would free.  The following day, she was in class for training. The breakfast was boiled egg which I couldn’t eat since I am vegetarian. So I went her kitchen again where her mother was preparing food. She gave me bread very easily, allowed me to sit in kitchen next to her and also gave me curry to eat along with bread. Unfortunately, the curry was from egg-plant which I am allergic with this since childhood. She was saying, it wasn’t but I recognized by smell and seeds, so I was eating bread alone. Eating bread alone is really tough job due to very rough surface.  It is very hard to swallow if we eat without anything. I was eating because it is hot so I was swallowing and trying to eat in small pieces. I was about to finish, her mother asked, did you eat yogurt? Yes, of course, I love the Jumla’s yogurt but I pretended and said, had you have? If yes, I would.
But she remained silence for a while, I stopped to eat the bread. After a while, she asked me, had you have period? I know about it though I was shocked because she sent her son to Kathmandu to study, she also travelled here and there, using radio, television, mobile and she saw everything what come to Jumla at the name of development or change.
I said boldly, yes I had, today was the second day. Indeed, I hadn’t had period. I had period when I was in Dillichaur, the eastern side of training.  She replied, humm,..so I couldn’t offer you at all? My cow would get sick. I even didn’t give my small daughter who had have period last week. I said, ask your daughter, she was in training, what we were doing and what it is all about restrictions. It is a form of violence of human right. I couldn’t leave this kitchen without having yogurt and bread.  I called her daughter and ask to explain about it. She explained well and I also added in very gentle and sometimes funny manner. Finally, I got yogurt but I promised and requested to call me if her family members or cows get sick. I promised to come anytime with medicine or doctors as per conditions.
She didn’t call me at all but I was thinking about her and her family. Psychologically, they might get sick, they might have dispute at home, might got daughter scolded by everyone etc. I regretted that I forget to note their contact number. About a week later, I invited to join the assembly of same cooperative at same place. I was so exhausted and no energy though I accepted because I wanted to meet this family.
I went there, I met entire family. I asked about anything wrong. There was nothing. Daughter was saying and teasing her mother, her cow and husband got sick.  

The deprivation of milk and milk products, meat and meat products, vegetables, fruits, rice etc. is really very bad for health. Women and girls need more nutritious food, love and affection during period. Women and girls have already suffered from chronic malnutrition since childhood. Could we meet all development goals 2030 if we don’t cross such deeply rooted taboos and rituals at the name of purity or religion or culture or custom? Shouldn’t we shift our attentions towards this issue?

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