Inadequate access to sanitation and hygiene affects women and girls disproportionally, especially those with a disadvantaged socio-economic status in developing countries. There seems to be a direct correlation between health and poverty in such remote areas as there is often poor access to basic resources and bathing and latrine facilities. Women face conditions that are adverse to their health, and also culturally determined codes of conduct, superstition and tradition, often based on patriarchal values, surrounding natural bodily functions, such as the menstrual cycle.
Ignoring natural bodily functions due to a lack of adequate facilities, ignorance or superstition causes discomfort and increases health risks.
The Naldjorma Project
In order to improve the situation of women and girls in rural areas of Nepal, I started the Naldjorma Project, which seeks to empower and educate women (starting with nuns) on sanitation and health. Educating women will improve not only their lives but also the lives of those around them, as women are the key managers of natural resources and thus powerful agents of change.
Gender bias is pervasive in many cultures, economies, and political and social institutions. Women continue to face discrimination and abuse, preventing them from playing an equal role in society and in decision-making. In rural Nepal, the position is especially precarious.
For one, women are limited in their potential due to pervasive traditional patriarchal social values, a chronic lack of education (the literacy rate for women is only 40%), and the potential to own their own income.
Women usually marry early and are then deprived the right to control their own reproductive systems. Maternal and infant death rates in rural Nepal are high (170 deaths for every 100,000 pregnancies), and trafficking is rampant. Women are treated as a commodity, causeing degradation and mental and physical suffering.
To empower women in rural Nepal, education is needed. Teaching women the skills they need to earn their own income improves their independence and strengthens their position in the household. If increased economic participation leads to a better share of income, women can contribute to the household and increase their influence in household decision-making.
One of the most serious problems in Nepal is the lack of health and sanitation facilities and a lack of knowledge about sanitation and hygiene. Some communities have no toilet facilities and use open spaces. These problems constitute a major threat to the health of the people. And it is women and girls who are largely affected by lack of access to sanitation, safe water, and hygiene.
Banned from home
Not only are there no facilities the women can use to keep themselves clean, but due to cultural superstitions related to the menstrual cycle, women and girls are banned from their own homes and often locked in sheds when they are on their period as they are considered ‘impure’. Women and girls have no access to means of sanitation.
To break the silence and the hold of superstition on the topic of the menstrual cycle, and to further the understanding of women about their natural bodily functions and health and sanitation practices, the Naldjorma Project has organised a number of presentations in nunneries. During visits we provide medical checkups and counsel nuns on health. After all, without proper sanitation and hygiene, one’s health is at risk, and so is one’s spiritual practice. It is our goal to make knowledge of female health as accepted as the other education the nuns receive, to overcome any aversion to the topic, and create an environment in which nuns can articulate their needs and concerns.
We began our work in nunneries as we noticed a big difference in the support provided to male and female monastics in Nepal. And in an environment where reproduction and ones reproduction facilities are a taboo subject, education about basic female health practices was much needed. During one of our initial visits to the Kopan Nunnery, we realised that lack of knowledge about women’s health, superstition, and lack of sanitation were pervasive.
Educating the nuns, girls, and the wider community about the menstrual cycle is a crucial step in addressing discrimination and exclusion. Educating girls and women about feminine hygiene and biology helps overthrow myths and cultural superstitions. Access to information about hygiene and adequate sanitary materials enables women to feel more confident and comfortable with their bodies. In addition, it is women who hold the responsibility of managing health and hygiene at home. Educating women on proper health and hygiene thus benefits the wider community.
The Naldjorma Project has been undertaken with personal resources and donations from a few sponsors reached through our Facebook page. We hope to expand our work from the nunneries and into remote areas in Nepal, to local communities. To achieve this, we need people who believe in our project and want to embrace the challenge that is empowering women in Nepal.
True harmony can only come about when there is a worldwide change of understanding about women’s rights and needs, and this will consist of a gradual process of change where female monastic issues are taken forward alongside a genuine expansion of awareness of women’s physical and spiritual wellbeing. That is why the Naldjorma Project is engaged in promoting essential values to improve the situation of women in Nepal. We strive for better quality of life, and the option of choice for the women, free from dogma and superstition.
The author, a marketing and branding consultant, wellness business entrepreneur and yoga teacher, founded the Naldjorma Project.