Menstrual health was a big issue - Nepal

Caption: Urmila is a 17-year-old adolescent girl who lives in Western Nepal. Date: December 2017. Credit: Plan International Australia.

Caption: Urmila is a 17-year-old adolescent girl who lives in Western Nepal. Date: December 2017. Credit: Plan International Australia.

During the second week of August 2017, Nepal experienced sustained and heavy rainfall resulting in widespread flooding across 35 of the country’s 75 districts. Several districts recorded the heaviest rainfall in over 60 years and 80 per cent of Tarai land was inundated with water. An initial assessment carried out in 28 districts indicated that over 1.7 million people were affected, 65,000 houses destroyed and 460,000 people displaced. The flood destroyed infrastructure in Rautahat, Bardiya, Morang and Sunsari where 500 schools and early childhood development centres were affected.

Urmila* comes from a low-income family, her father is a farmer and they have a small piece of land, but production is not sufficient to sustain the family for an entire year. Her father and mother also work as labourers. All siblings attend school and help with household chores, Urmila likes going to school and tries not to miss any days. Her school, however, was closed for a month after the flood and although the school only suffered minor damage, nearby villagers lived in the school for a month after the floods as it is on higher ground.

On the night of the flood, there was a continuous downpour and the family couldn't sleep. Urmila’s father received a SMS at 1:45 am warning of floods. By the time the family got ready and started to move towards the school at 2 am, water had already reached their knees. 

Menstrual health remains the big issue
The flood swept away everything they had, the house, clothes, books, stationery, food, grains and livestock. Her family spent a month in the school with other families. While the school provided shelter there was no adequate drinking or toilet facilities, limited privacy to change sanitary pads and no sanitary pads available. “I used cotton cloth as a sanitary pad but there was no place available to change the pad," said Urmila. "I disposed of it in the flood waters. There were no other options," she added. 

Relief materials
With funding provided through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership, Urmila and her family received a food package and water from Plan International in the immediate aftermath of the flood, as well as utensils, clothes (Dhoti for women), blankets and mosquito nets. Plan International also set up Adolescent Friendly Spaces (AFS) for adolescent girls including Urmila.

Adolescent Friendly Spaces help to break taboos
The AFS were set up to create a space for adolescent girls to talk about issues affecting them during the emergency. A facilitator trained by Plan International ran the AFS and organised meetings with parents of adolescent girls. The objectives of this program were to provide information about menstruation and how to manage it, and to inform adolescent girls and parents about the increased risk of child marriage, trafficking and labour in post-emergency settings.  

Caption: The Adolescent Friendly Spaces were set up to create a space for adolescent girls to talk about the issue that matters them during the emergencies. Date: December 2017. Credit: Plan International Australia.

Caption: The Adolescent Friendly Spaces were set up to create a space for adolescent girls to talk about the issue that matters them during the emergencies. Date: December 2017. Credit: Plan International Australia.

Urmila said she learnt that no girl should marry below the age of 20. "It harms our health, increases mental stress, restricts our chances of getting an education." Urmila also learnt about menstrual hygiene management, changing sanitary pads every three hours and sanitary pad disposal by burning or burying pads in pits. 

Before the flood Urmila didn't attend school during her period, which is common among adolescent girls in her community. Talking about menstrual hygiene practices at school is considered taboo. She says, "It was hard to ask questions at school when boys were around, but it has been easy to ask the facilitator at the AFS questions about this topic."

* Names have been changed. 
Date of article: December 2017.

In 2017, Plan International Australia received $500,000 through the AHP for their Nepal floods response. Activity locations are in the districts of Rautahat, Bardiya and Sunsari, with activities in the sectors of protection and education. The length of the response is September 2017 - September 2018.