LALITPUR, Nepal (WOMENSENEWS) — Ever since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake destroyed her home in Sindhupalchowk, Nepal, in April, Sani Tamang, 16, has been having trouble maintaining proper hygiene.
Tamang and her family have lived for four months at a camp in Bode set up by the Chinese government for those affected by the earthquake, which killed 9,000 people and injured more than 23,000. In the camps, families live under tents and tarps in a field.
“The latrines are not so good and we have to go to a nearby river or tap to bathe,” Tamang said in a phone interview. “There are no proper water facilities and we have to travel a long distance to get water.”
Living in the evacuation camps is hard on everyone, but for girls who have their periods the challenge is extra daunting.
Talking about menstruation and feminine hygiene is rare in many parts of Nepal. During the disaster, that made it hard for girls struggling with rough camp conditions to speak up and say their foremost need was for sanitary pads.
Tamang, who spends her days studying in a school in Bode, about eight miles from the capital city of Kathmandu, said it’s been a long time since they received sanitary pads in their relief materials. When necessary, she collects money donated by various organizations from campmates and buys sanitary kits so the girls won’t be forced to stain their clothes. Once used, the materials are disposed of by digging a hole in the ground. “Once we got a reusable pad which was quite helpful,” she said.
Tamang looks forward to having proper materials so she can go about her days without the shame of staining.
Around 300 girls are living in camps like this one in Bode. A few weeks after the first earthquake, there was another with a 7.3 magnitude killing 65 people and injuring 1,926 people.
Bode camp was one of the few camps that received some supplies.
Santhoki Dangi, 38, and Asmita Bista, 16, rarely received sanitary materials at their camp in Tudikhel, Kathmandu. When they did, it was a tedious and embarrassing. “For a single packet our name, phone number, age and every detail was taken,” said Dangi.
To make things worse, the latrine is located in the gate of Bhadrakali, a temple near the Sahid Gate, about a half mile from their camp site.
It’s a struggle for girls at the camps to maintain proper sanitation when latrines are located at a considerable distance, requiring them to walk over a muddy trail.
BEYOND-Nepal, a community organizing group near the capital city, has been distributing reusable sanitary napkins for the earthquake victims. One volunteer, Seongmi Jeong, was propelled by her own hardships while staying in a farming field after the earthquake to mobilize support for other women and girls.
“I got difficulties not only from hunger, the cold, insects, fear, but also from a lack of materials and a facility to manage my period,” said Jeong, who is originally from South Korea, in an email interview. “I thought other women who were victimized from the earthquake could face similar difficulties so they needed at least sanitary materials to manage menstruation.”
2,000 Sanitary Napkins
With her friend, Sachit Lochan Jha, the executive director of BEYOND-Nepal, Jeong made 2,000 reusable sanitary napkins and distributed them in various areas of Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk, Nuwakot, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur districts and other places where they are not considered a basic need.
“They received the kits happily,” said Jeong. “They looked like they could not expect to get our menstrual sanitary kits as relief materials. For women, menstrual managing materials are mostly necessary things but at the moment, it was not regarded as it was. So women had to endure other difficulties hidden.”
The Fellow Traveller Earthquake Relief, based in Nepal, which has conducted reproductive health awareness programs for female teens in rural areas, also distributes sanitary kits in various affected areas of Nepal.
“The girls were having a hard time without proper toilets,” said Anoushka Pandey, the project coordinator of The Fellow Traveller Earthquake Relief. “They had all of their clothes inside those cracked houses. So supplies weren’t enough.”
Because of the social stigma surrounding menstruation, girls were often hesitant to take sanitary pads in front of male members of the family so older women in the families collected the materials and distributed them to the girls.