Fathers’ groups break taboos around menstruation
Tilakram is among a number of men who have learnt about menstruation in fathers' groups. Along with his peers, he's now breaking down taboos to support girls and young women to manage their periods.
“I received a package during one of the fathers’ meetings. I gave it to my granddaughter thinking it was a packet of biscuits, but it was sanitary pads,” says 64-year-old Tilakram with a smile on his face.
Tilakram is one of the men taking part in a series of meetings for fathers organised by Plan International in Bardiya district, western Nepal. At the group meetings, the men have a safe space where they are encouraged to discuss issues around sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
Most of the men belong to the Tharu community, an indigenous group from the Terai belt. Living in an isolated and remote area, the community has limited access to SRHR information, causing myths and falsehoods which puts girls’ and women’s health at risk.
Men discuss sexual health and rights
“There is a mothers’ group in my village, but the fathers’ group is completely new. This was my first-time attending meetings with fathers and discussing SRHR. In a group of men, we usually talk about our work, politics, and construction work like roads and buildings,” explains Tilakram who admits that talking about the subject made him feel uncomfortable at first.
However, after attending a few sessions, Tilakram quickly realised the importance of what they were discussing and vowed to continue attending. Now he is learning more about menstrual health, which caused him a little confusion when packs containing sanitary pads and stationary were given to the men to pass on to their daughters.
“I was shocked to find out that sanitary pads are used during menstrual periods. I handed the gift to my 12-year-old granddaughter. Then I was even more curious to learn about menstruation so I continued going to the meetings,” shares Tilakram.
Although menstruating girls and women are often excluded from society in many of Nepal’s communities, the Tharu people do not place any restrictions on girls and women during their periods.
“Menstruating girls and women are allowed to do their daily tasks as usual. They are not labeled as impure and can touch anything and anybody without any judgment. They aren’t restricted in the kitchen and temples,” explains one of the project’s social mobilisers.
“We encourage girls and women having their period to eat ghonghi (an edible snail) and gekta (crab) to add calcium to their diets. They can take part in all family and community functions, including marriages and funerals. Girls and women are allowed to worship and can join in with festivals. They are not separated from other members of the community and can sleep in their usual beds. They can touch plants, food and can work. This is the bright side of the Tharu community.”
Breaking down taboos around menstruation
Although the Tharu people do not discriminate against menstruating women and girls, it is still not a subject openly discussing among family members and friends. For many people it is viewed as a taboo, particularly among men.
“Though periods are not stigmatised in the Tharu community, it’s not often spoken about. We don’t talk about it openly. Even when girls and women have problems related to SRHR, they hesitate to share it with male family members,” says Tilakram.
With his confidence boosted from the father’s group meetings, Tilakram decided to initiate a conversation with his family members about menstruation and its management. Now, he happily discusses family planning, the use of contraceptives, and other sexual and reproductive health issues with his family and the wider community.
“Now I do not shy away or hide my face when someone talks about SRHR. I can provide the correct information to those who stigmatise girls and women during their periods,” Tilakram says.
Plan International Nepal’s ‘Adolescent SRHR Improvement’ project is funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) with the aim of engaging fathers in Bardiya district in sexual and reproductive health and rights discourse and equipping schools with hygiene facilities and services. The project is implemented in partnership of GERUWA, an NGO based in Bardiya.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights, Menstruation