As a female traveler, there are certain things that will be the same no matter where in the world you travel, one of those things will be your period. In most western countries, traveling and having your period at the same time is not a problem, and can be easily overcome. As a woman travelling in Nepal, there are certain things to be aware of, for instants the practical aspect, where do you buy your pads? How to dispose the pads in a proper way, also according to local traditions and culture.
In Nepal, as in many Asian countries, there are certain norms in society about women who are menstruating. When a Nepalis woman is menstruating, she does not cook food or enter the kitchen, should not touch water, fruits and vegetables, cattle, and other people, and especially not males, as it is believed, the woman becomes impure and untouchable. Therefore, the woman will not be sleeping in the same bed as her husband.
Another thing is that a menstruating woman does not visit, or enter a temple or other holy places. Even though Nepal and its people, especially in the capital of Kathmandu, are becoming more educated about periods, there are still a lot of taboo towards talking about menstruation and the female body.
In rural areas of Nepal, it is still practiced that girls and woman on their periods, get isolated in special huts for the duration of their period. This practice is called “Chhaupadi”. In the recent years, the Nepalis government has passed a law that makes it illegal to practice chhaupadi. Together with this new law and the increase in education about menstruation, it is the goal that fewer woman, mostly in rural areas, will not die from having their periods. This has been a problem for many years, especially with the practice of chhaupadi, where the woman is isolated, without access to drinking water, food and proper hygiene. Though chhaupadi is now illegal, there are is still places in Nepal where women will be isolated during their days of menstruating. It is a wonderful step that the Nepali government, is actively doing something to improve women’s rights and health. But unfortunately, it is not enough to pass laws and think that this will solve the whole problem, the main problem is the mentality of the people. This mentality might be the hardest thing to change, and it will take many years before it will happen.
As a female expat living in Nepal, it is my personal experience, that a lot of Nepalis women still live abide by this mentality and practice, and stays away from the kitchen during the days of their period. And that menstruation is not socially accepted to speak about. And yet-, it is never a secret when a woman is menstruating. I often hear “oh, she can’t do it. She is on her period” or “sorry, but I’m on my period”. Personally, I have never been asked if I was on my period or not. And I also have the feeling, that there is a difference between foreigner and Nepalis when it comes to menstruation. And now you might be thinking “what do I do if I have my period while I am in Nepal?” Though,as for my personal experience, I would try to plan my trips to temples and other holy places, in the time around my period, so that I could avoid going in those days. Not that you will be stopped in the gate being asked about it. I know for a fact that some Nepalis women visit temples and holy while menstruating.But purely out of respect for the culture, I would try not to go. And postponed it till it is over.
And what do I do practically about my period while I’m in Nepal? Well, my advice would be, that if you are here on a short trip, you should bring pads from your country. It is possible to buy pads here in Nepal, and very few places sell tampons and panty liners as well, but the selection is very limited. And if you have sensitive skin or if you are allergic to perfume, bringing your own pads would be the best solution for you. A big amount of the pads available in nepal contains perfume to some extent. And it might be difficult to find something that will match your personal preference. Another idea, instead of bringing/buying pads, could be to use a period-cup or another re-usable product. For disposing of pads Most hotels in the capital and in Pokhara, will get their trash picked up by garbage trucks. So, if you stay in a hotel you can throw out you pads in the normal trashcan. Though bearing in mind that proper disposal of trash and garbage in Nepal, is difficult, and is not always very environmentally friendly. An advice I once got from a Nepali woman I worked with, was to wrap the pad in toilet paper or plastic. And if you use public toilets not to throw away the bloodied paper, where anyone could see it. When I asked her the reasons for this, she told me that it was so that a man couldn’t see it. And in a sense, she is right, do you really want anybody to see your used pads? And if you stay in a hotel, you never know who will empty the trashcan in your toilet.
So if it is a struggle in very populated areas to dispose of your pads, what on earth do you do in villages or when you go on trekking? Again, I would say find a re-usable product. They do not harm nature as much as normal hygiene products and, they will not take up that much space in your luggage. Finally, you won’t have to worry about where to dispose them. Otherwise, you might end up carrying around a plastic bag with used pads in your luggage, until you find a place where you can dispose of them. Period cups are being introduced to women in rural areas, who might, under normal circumstance, have a hard time getting hygiene products. They are easy to use, just take it out and wash it and then use it again and again, and even better period cups can last up to 10 years! Saving people, a lot of money.
When you travel to Nepal, make it a priority to think about how you will be handling your period. Both in a way that suits you, and your personal preferences, but also a way that will be good for the environment, and won’t contribute to the rising level of pollution in the country. And finally, be culturally sensitive and, give thought to the cultural aspect of menstruating as well. Nepal is an amazing country with a lot of adventure, so your period shouldn’t stop you, from experiencing it!
Jeanette Marie Latter, 21 years old. traveled in Europe, Nepal and Philippines. lived and worked the past year in Nepal. Worked both as teacher, in hostel and as an actor in Nepal.