The stigma around menstruation is real -- and in certain parts of the world, it stops girls from participating in daily activities, to the point of putting their health at risk.
In some regions of Nepal, women and girls on their periods are considered “impure,” according to the U.N. As a result, they are forbidden from engaging in common activities, such as eating with family, entering temples or handling food. In some areas, women are even banished to live in cowsheds while menstruating.
These practices don't just affect girls’ emotional wellbeing, but also their physical health: Women who live in areas with these practices often have reduced access to water during their periods, according to WaterAid. This increases their risk of infection from poor hygiene during menstruation.
What’s more, the lack of access to proper sanitation facilities and feminine hygiene products in schools causes many girls to skip class during their periods -- and some to drop out altogether.
Nepal is far from the only place with detrimental attitudes around menstruation: Countries around the world, from Malawi to the United States, have policies and practices — such as making period talk taboo or taxing tampons — that discriminate against women for an entirely normal, inevitable bodily function.
That’s why a group of girls in Nepal decided to take these taboos to task, as part of a project with nonprofit WaterAid. They took photos of all of the ways they’re marginalized during their periods -- items they can’t touch, spaces they can’t enter -- to show just how nefarious menstrual stigma really is.
These seven photos show how menstrual taboos discriminate against girls:
1. Manisha Photographs The Water That She Can't Touch
“I took this picture when my Aunt was fetching water. Water is very important for our body and for our existence. Water is important for cleanliness as well.
We are not allowed to touch water if we are in our menstrual cycle and someone else is fetching water. We have to wait in the line until everybody’s done. By the time we reach home it’s already dark, and sometimes it’s difficult to complete our homework in the darkness.
In these situations I feel helpless and I feel as if my hands are tied up as I can do nothing but stand and stare. During these times I want to strongly revolt against such biased beliefs.” - Manisha Karki, 14
2. Bandana Photographs Her Family Whom She Can't Eat With
“This is my mother and sister. Here, my mother is feeding my sister with so much love. My mother loves me very much as well -- however, during my menstruation cycle I am kept separately and have to eat at distance.
When nobody touches me, I feel unloved. We need lots of love and support during our menstruation but, when I am separated and treated like an untouchable I feel no love from my mother and father and I feel only hatred. I feel sad.” - Bandana Khadka, 15
3. Sushma Photographs A Mirror, Which Girls Are Banned From Looking Into
"This is a picture of a mirror and comb. In our society, when girls experience their first menstruation, we are not allowed to look into mirrors or comb our hair.
I think that is wrong. Me and my family do not follow such practice, but I have many friends whose families are really strict about it, so most of my friends were not allowed to look themselves in the mirror.
If my friends could grow in an environment where there were no limitations regarding menstruation, and receive more support from their families, they could set themselves free and explore greater opportunities." -- Sushma Diyali, 15
4. Manisha Photographs The Food She Can't Cook
“This is a picture of my kitchen. My mother had just finished cooking ‘sel-roti.’ I love roti. But during menstruation I am not allowed to enter the kitchen.
I am also not allowed to touch belongings in the kitchen: materials, food and utensils. I am not allowed to eat ‘sel-roti’ either.
Other days when I am not in the cycle I work and eat in the same kitchen, so eating separately during menstruation makes me sad. I feel outcasted, like a stranger who’s not the part of the family.” - Manisha Karki, 14
5. Bisheshta Photographs The Place She Washed After Her First Period, When She Was Forced To Leave Home
“This is the place where I washed myself during my first menstruation. When I had my first period, I had to stay at someone else’s house, as we were not allowed to stay in our own home.
It was 15 minutes away from my house. Teenage girls are more secure with their own parents, be it during menstruation or not. But following social culture, we have to stay in some other house for seven days, where we may not be as secure.” - Bisheshta Bhandari, 15
6. Manisha Photographs A Cultural Ritual She Was Banned From
“In our society cultural rituals and norms have great meaning. I took this picture when my father and uncles were performing a ritual called ‘Masik,’ a monthly ritual done in the remembrance of a lost family member.
During these rituals if any female is experiencing her cycle, she is not allowed to enter, touch the materials, or help out.
We are taught that it’s a natural process in school, but I question why only women have to feel ashamed and bounded by the natural changes that they go through. After all changes are prevalent among boys too, aren’t they?” - Manisha Karki, 14
7. Sushma Photographs Her Headmaster, Who She Asked To Improve School Sanitation To Keep Girls In Class During Their Period
“This is the principal of our school. I want to let him know about the situations that we girls face during our menstruation because of lack of services in our school.
We face lot of problems because there is no provision of pads in our school. There is no proper place where we can change our pads, and burn them after we have used them. There is no provision of clean drinking water as well.
We have to miss classes 3-4 days every month -- and the proper management of all these services would change the scenario.” - Sushma Diyali, 15