Menstruation Matters: How Periods Are Keeping Girls Out of School in Nepal

For millions of women and girls around the world, menstruation can lead not only to cramps, bloating, and mood swings, but it also can lead to days of missed school and lower future economic earnings.
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It's that time of the month -- your period. For those of us in the U.S., this is a regular occurrence that doesn't cause a major disruption in most of our lives. However, for millions of women and girls around the world, menstruation can lead not only to cramps, bloating, and mood swings, but it also can lead to days of missed school and lower future economic earnings. For many girls, having their periods is not just a monthly inconvenience but also something that can negatively impact income in the long-term, hurting not only a girl and her family but also her community and her country.

While traveling through Nepal in October, I had the opportunity to meet with Ola Perczynska, founder and program manager of Her Turn, an organization that works to empower girls in Nepal and equip them with skills and knowledge to create their own safe and healthy futures. For the month of November, Her Turn --along with the Day of the Girl Summit and several other international organizations -- is working to raise awareness about the impact that menstruation has on education for girls around the world through the #PointPeriod campaign.

Did you know, around the world, girls are missing school for days at a time just because they are menstruating?In Nepal, approximately 30 percent of girls miss school each month as a result of their periods, Her Turn reports.

Why are these girls missing school? What about menstruation causes them to stay at home?

Consider these facts:

UNICEF reports that 95 percent of girls surveyed in Nepal's mid- and far-western regions faced some sort of restriction when having their first periods. Of these girls, 44 percent observed the traditional practice of chaupadi. What are these "restrictions?" Depending on the society and its traditions, these can include not touching men, not touching books, and sleeping and eating in places away from other family members. Not being allowed to touch books for three to seven days per month is a quick way to negatively impact a girl's education.

In rural, western Nepal, many households practice chaupadi, a tradition which dictates that women are to spend days during menstruation (and sometimes after childbirth) living in sheds away from their families as they are considered to be impure or unclean. These girls not only miss school, but they also face a number of dangers living in isolation for days each month. Deaths have been reported as a result of hypothermia during the winter, animal attacks, and asphyxiation and burns from building fires in small, enclosed spaces during chaupadi. Women also have reported being raped while in isolation during this time. While Nepal's Supreme Court declared chaupadi illegal in 2005, the practice continues today, not only causing girls to miss school but also endangering their health and well-being.

In addition to restrictions in Nepal, Her Turn reports that 41 percent of girls who do not attend school when menstruating stay home because they do not have privacy for cleaning and washing at school. Schools with hundreds of students often have one bathroom for all pupils that is typically not the most sanitary or safe place. Even at home, many girls do not know how to properly clean the materials they use during menstruation and are embarrassed to hang them out to dry with other laundry, Ola told me. Women may use rags or unhygienic materials, such as newspaper, leaves, or even sand and ash. Not having proper sanitary menstruation materials can have negative health consequences and also cause girls to worry that they will have a leak at school and be harassed or teased, giving them another reason to skip school during their periods.

Attending school has been shown to have a positive effect on girls' lives, as well as their future. When girls attend school, they are likely to marry later and have fewer children. They are less likely to be the victim of domestic violence. Their income is higher than those with less schooling. The Girl Effect reports that an additional year of primary school education boosts a girl's future wages between 10 and 20 percent, while an additional year of secondary school adds to her income by 15 to 25 percent. When girls miss days or even weeks of school each year due to their periods, they fall behind their male peers and may even drop out out as they cannot keep up in the classroom. We must work to keep these girls in school. Their periods shouldn't hold them back.

Menstruation matters. It's causing girls in Nepal and countries throughout the world to miss crucial days of education or even leave school behind altogether. As Her Turn's founder Ola told me, "this issue is very relevant. Every girl will start menstruating." Rather than letting the start of their periods mean the end of education for girls around the world, we must raise awareness among girls and boys, women and men of the impact of menstruation and how it should never negatively impact a girl's education. Period.

During the month of November, I hope that you will follow the #PointPeriod campaign to educate yourself and spread the word to others about how menstruation matters.

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