Sanitary pad dispensers in Nepal schools to reduce dropouts

By Samar Prasain.

Kathmandu, Mar 19 (efe-epa).- The first time Preeti Chaudhary had her period, she felt embarrassed and confused. Chaudhary, the resident of Birgunj in Nepal’s southern plains, was forced to stay home during her periods.

She told her mom what was happening. But the mother had no enough money to buy her a packet of sanitary pads. “I used to use an old piece of cloth,” Chaudhary recalls.

But things have changed now.

“I use sanitary pads now,” the student of grade eight at Nepal Railway Secondary School told EFE. “The pad I am using is clean and hygienic.”

She is happy these days because she is not forced to skip her school anymore.

The Nepal government launched the sanitary pad distribution campaign last year targeting all girl students of the community schools across the country.

Under the campaign, students from grade six to 12 will get the facility of sanitary pads according to their needs. And they are free of cost.

“Every teenager, particularly from the poor financial background, suffers when they start menstruating. If they are in school, they ask for leave and most of them say they are suffering from stomach pain. We can immediately understand, they are seeking menstrual leave,” said Prekshya Yadav, a teacher at the Birgunj school.

“Before the sanitary pad distribution campaign was launched, most of the students would use an old cloth,” she said. “Thanks to the campaign, girls nowadays have full monthly attendance.”

“That’s a positive sign of the campaign. Many girls usually used to miss their 20 percent of monthly school attendance. Sometimes, they would drop out of school completely,” said Yadav.

Arabind Karna, chief of the education division at Birgunj Metropolitan City, told EFE that the government introduced the sanitary pad distribution program to decrease dropout rates and to create a favorable environment for all girls in schools.

“If a girl misses school for five days, she falls behind. She becomes weaker to compete and she drops out,” he said. This kind of situation was common and has been affecting the majority of girls in Nepal whose families are poor to afford sanitary products.

In most places, girls are treated as untouchables during their menstruation cycle. The period stigma runs deep resulting in girls not being able to enter the kitchen, go to temples and attend festivals.

In western part of Nepal, this practice is called Chhaupadi that bans menstruating women from entering the house. They are required to live in a cattle shed, known as a menstruation hut, during their period.

This isolation has proved dangerous because while sleeping in the huts, women are at risk of snake bites, physical assault and suffocation because of lack of ventilation.

According to Karna, the government has allocated 1.37 billion Nepalese rupees ($11.6 million) for this fiscal year, beginning mid-July, for the sanitary pad distribution campaign across the country. The campaign is expected to benefit 1.43 million girl students.

The government has even drafted a public sanitary pad distribution and management working procedure to make the campaign effective.

Birgunj Metropolis has installed sanitary pad vending machines at 31 community schools. “Now any girl studying in community schools can obtain a sanitary pad,” Karna said.

“All one has to do is insert the token in the vending machine and press the button that will release the sanitary pad. The token is made available to girl students free of cost through their schools,” Karna told EFE.

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