Aditi Sharma Wants to Make Sure That Menstrual Hygiene is on the Gender Equality Agenda
Aditi Sharma is a Women Deliver Young Leader and an advocate for menstrual hygiene. Growing up in her native country of Nepal, lack of information about or access to menstrual hygiene was not only common -- it was the norm. In the fall of 2016, Aditi received at US$5,000 seed grant -- made possible by Johnson & Johnson and Women Deliver -- to implement the Menstrual Hygiene Awareness Training Project, which promoted menstrual health and hygiene in Nepalese communities to empower girls and women by raising awareness among girls and women, as well as men, regarding menstrual hygiene. The project also provided solutions to manage menstruation hygienically based on local and available resources, including how to properly use hygienic sanitary products.
In honor of Menstrual Hygiene Day, Women Deliver spoke with Aditi about her her seed grant project, her experience as an advocate for menstrual hygiene, and why this issue is so fundamental to gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women.
Women Deliver: What was your experience accessing menstrual hygiene when you were young? How, if at all, did that impact how you see this issue?
Aditi Sharma: Growing up, I always had really easy access to menstrual hygiene, not only in terms of good quality sanitary products but also proper information on menstruation. Thanks to a well-informed mother and a medical student for a sister, I knew exactly what changes my body would go through well before my first period and when the time came, all the products were readily available to me. I went through my periods privately and except for the occasional cramps, my periods were always hassle free with no restrictions what so ever. For a long time, I thought that was how all girls’go about their periods.
Through the years I learned that women and girls in my country Nepal very rarely had a positive period story and I was among the privileged few. While in urban areas, the restrictions for women and girls during their periods were limited to not being allowed to cook and pray; in some rural areas of Nepal, women were banished to cow sheds during their menses treating them like untouchables. It baffled me that while I was safely tucked in my warm cozy bed even during my periods, my rural counterparts were dying of hypothermia, asphyxiation, snake bites and even rape while living in tiny cow sheds simply because they were menstruating. This was unacceptable and it had to stop and hence I have made it my mission to devote my career to promote menstrual hygiene and end the taboos and stigmas attached to it.
Women Deliver: What are the barriers that we need to break down in order to make this fundamental aspect of girls’ and women’s health accessible to everyone?
Aditi: I think the biggest barriers for women and girls to access proper menstrual hygiene are lack of awareness, unavailability, and lack of affordability of sanitary products, lack of proper facilities and socially restrictive practices. I believe that raising awareness on this issue in the community level including not only women and girls but also men and boys, religious leaders and health workers is the first step to tackling this issue.
Women Deliver: What kind of work are you doing to make menstrual hygiene more accessible to girls and women?
Aditi: In 2014, I co-founded an NGO called 'Kalyani' to address the neglected need to raise awareness about menstruation, promote safe hygienic menstrual practices and fight social taboos related to menstruation. Kalyani’s overarching mission is eradicate Chhaupadi, the tradition of banishing women and girls to cow sheds during their periods, altogether one village at a time. In the first year of its establishment, I led menstrual hygiene education workshops in various rural schools of Nepal mobilizing young volunteers. Kalyani started its first major project in August 2016 from the $5000 seed grant I received from Women Deliver, made possible by Johnson & Johnson. I currently lead the project in Salkot in Surkhet district in mid-west Nepal where we have been running various education workshops orienting adolescent girls and boys, women’s groups, community members, religious leaders and health workers on menstrual hygiene management. Moreover, we have also been training women and girls to make reusable sanitary towels, giving them a healthy, affordable and sustainable solution to manage their menses. In a span of a few months alone, Kalyani has been able to reach over 2000 community members through dozens of small workshops. As Chhaupadi is practiced in most households in Salkot, Kalyani’s next step involves running a campaign with the support of the community and local government to end Chaupadi in that area all togeth
Women Deliver: What do you want menstrual hygiene to be like for the next generation of girls and women in Nepal?
Aditi: I want the next generation of girls to be able to access menstrual hygiene taboo-free with dignity and safety, with all the necessary information and without any restrictions!