Dialogue: Shed for Menstruation
Clean Sheds during Menstruation:
While walking through the villages to villages in Dailekh, I met Kamala (name changed), married, adolescent girl. She smiled and pointed the shed and shared, ‘my sister in law and myself started to use my maternal shed during menstruation because shed of maternal house is clean than here’. Kamala’s father was at home, he bit furious and said, our shed is extremely clean so why should you worry. Another, newly elected leader from Nepali Congress also worked as Dhami claimed that he is not asking women to stay in cowshed or women are living in clean shed. Just before them, the leader from CPN Maoist shouted that Dailekh has not Chhaupadi anymore. It has already abolished by them during war time. The NGOs and government were making fake reports, he added. The leader from UML also claimed that Dailekh has not have problem as far west Nepal, all are living in clean sheds. In other hand, school going children and women account that girls and women staying the outside of home during Pakha lageko bela (menstruation). It could be separate house or shed or farm or beside of hay or firewood. They use traditional material (ghum) for protecting from rain.
Clean shed Vs Human Right
In general speaking, the clean shed is better than dirty or cattle shed. It somehow signifies the constitutional right article 37, ‘right to healthy environment’ with some questions such as adequate space for sleeping, cleansing, ventilation, warm. Does this clean shed fulfil human rights of a girl and woman who menstruate as guarantee by constitution 2015. The clean shed is violation of human right of a girl/woman where the gender inequality and discrimination institutionalised in many ways.
Constitutional rights Vs Clean Shed:
The menstrual rights are mentioned directly and indirectly in the permeable of Constitution 2015 as well as 10 various articles under fundamental rights; right to dignified life (article 16), right to freedom (article 17), right to equality (article 18), right to against discrimination and contamination (article 24), right to healthy environment (article 30), right to education (article 31), right to health (article 35), right to food (article 36), right to house (article 37), right to women (article 38). Here, how does clean shed ensure the rights of a girl who menstruate and living in clean shed. Can she live along with her family members? Can she accompany with her friends for school? Can she touch her men and senior family members of family and neighbours? Can she mobile freely? Can she join any cultural/social activities of family and community? Can she touch the plants of fruits, and vegetables? Can she eat any milk and meat product? Does this clean shed protect girl from any attack from alcoholic or bad man or wild animals or snake? Does this clean shed allow to use any water source, toilet, temple, school, sanitary materials freely? Does this clean shed provide adequate clothing and sanitary materials? Does this clean shed build agency of a girl to grow as equal as boy of her age? Does this clean shed convey the message of menstruation is biological and essential process of human existence? To me, clean shed doesn’t answer almost all questions today and never ever.
Clean shed is an informal educational institution
While using clean shed, girl is facing lots of issues related peace, human right and empowerment which mostly not visible without human right friendly approach. But it is conveying widely and deeply the message of power, gender discrimination, masculinity as infrastructure. Even the young children ages from 4-5 years started to understand the difference between women and men or girl and boy by following the activities of girl or woman who is using clean shed. In village, a shed is being used by many households and somewhere made for communal purpose too. The heart and brain of a girl who is using clean shed is shrinking severely. She started to lose her agency in many ways whereas the boy learned in opposite direction. Thus, the girls are experiencing the humiliation, low esteem, low morale constantly no matter whether she lives inside or not. Because it is made for her. She bleeds for five days in a month but the clean shed is standing next to her and neighbours house and piercing the girl 24/7 hours.
Confusion on Menstrual Rights Campaign
May 28 is started to celebrate as International Menstrual day globally since 2014 when the UN declared that the restrictions related to menstruation is underlying cause for inequality. The few defined and focused on hygiene, others defined and focused health and others defined and focused on rights as whole. Other school of thought is also in practice, claimed as menstrual rights instead of others. To me, menstruation is a biological process and human right concern thus it is everyone’s business. By considering the understandings, associated myths, rumours, illness, needs, priorities specially in Nepalese context, the intervention should be in holistic in nature. It is beyond the matter of clean or dirty shed or number of toilets in school or infrastructure or sanitary pads. the first and foremost principle is dignity. Menstruation is embedded with private to public and vice versa. It is also a political though seems personal per see. It is multifaceted issue. Unfortunately, Nepali actors are more focused on infrastructure and many advocating for clean and communal sheds. And many actors preaching for either abandon or demolish the shed without rational behind it. More importantly they are practising by themselves at their private as well public life. They are asking excuses for the sake of grandparents, in laws, god, culture etc. As a result, the campaign is already failure where villagers started to construct the shed for continue the practice in Chhaupadi free declared community in Achham e.g. a 15 years girl dead in shed during menstruation (November 2016).
It is highly appreciated that the Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation is taking lead role to draft the policy on it (April 2017). The common understanding on issues and strategies among all stakeholder, the government should expedite its action by urging all stakeholders to incorporate menstruation is a cross cutting issue across all actors and level. Because menstrual rights is the key element for achieving overarching goal of peace, justice, human right, empowerment and pre-condition to achieve sustainable development goals 2030.
I have shared this article for Kathmandu Post