A teenage boy becomes an unlikely advocate for menstrual health in Nepal
Bibek Timilsina from Achham district has become an unlikely advocate for menstrual health in Nepal
As part of the UNICEF-supported Rupantaran programme in Achham District, peer educator Bibek Timilsina (right) has gathered potential peer educators in Kamalbajar and is today showing them how to make a reusable sanitary pad using locally available material. When asked about how it feels to be a man talking to women about their reproductive health, Bibek says, “I understand this is a touchy subject, but don’t we all have to deal with this at one point?”
What it takes to make a sanitary pad: half a metre of cloth, scissors, buttons, marker, thread and needle, and two sets of paper guides. The rationale behind making them at home is that the ones available in the market are too expensive for girls and women in rural areas. Also, they are not reusable; but the ones made at home are.
“At first you use the guides to draw the outline of the pad,” instructs Bibek. “Then you cut up the cloth half a centimetre away from where you have marked it.” The extra space allows the sewing to take place exactly where it is marked.
Peer educator Manisha Jaisi, 17, carefully scissors around where she has marked, giving shape to the upper side of the pad. “If all men followed Bibek’s example and learnt how to make this and talked to the women in their families about health issues, maybe menstruation would not be such a taboo,” says Manisha.
It is not only girls but even boys who are interested in learning. Padam Rawat, 15 (right), is an active Rupantaran trainee from the Kamalbajar area. “I don’t know if I will be successful in sharing this to the women around my village, but I would like to try,” says Padam.
After the two sections of the pad are sewn to each other, two steel buttons are sewn onto the ears. “We then stuff the inside with small pieces of cloth so that it absorbs the blood,” says Manisha.
It takes about 30 minutes for them to finish making one sanitary pad. The pad can be reused up to four times. How do you know when to stop using it? Manisha: “After the cloth looks withered and becomes scratchy.”
Bibek, Saradai Jaisi, Bimala Adhikari, Bimala Rawat, Manisha, and Padam pose for a picture with the finished sanitary pads.
Manisha dries her reusable sanitary pad at home. Earlier she used whatever waste cloth was available at home during menstruation, but now she swears by these. “This is very useful for us girls,” says Manisha. “Now we can actually sit down with relief while at school.”
Manisha’s aunt Pabitra Jaisi (left), 29, and other women pose with the homemade sanitary pad that Manisha showed them how to make. After learning that the pad soaks all the blood and her clothes will not be stained, Pabitra says, “Now I don’t have to feel ashamed anymore.”
Manisha walks home with a pot of water she has collected at the community tap near her home. During her period, she is not allowed to go near such water sources because of prevalent social customs. “You see, this is not a personal issue, it is a collective problem,” says Manisha of menstruation.
Manisha poses in front of her house with her aunt (right), grandmother (middle) and other siblings and cousins. She has been part of UNICEF’s Rupantaran programme - first as a student, now as a peer educator - for the last two and a half years, and now aims to be a nurse. “It breaks my heart to see sick people who have nobody to help them,” says Manisha. “I want to become a nurse and help the poorest of the poors.”