It was just over a month ago today that the first devastating Nepal earthquake hit. On the 28th May it is Menstrual Hygiene Day. How do the two fit together? In a natural disaster not only do women have to cope with losing all that they own and their loved ones but they also have to deal with every day issues like having their periods. While living in crowded makeshift tents. With men. Who aren't their family.
In Nepal it's culturally not the norm to even sleep in the same room as your partner when you have your period. So this current situation is mortifying and for these traumatised women it can cause so much anxiety that some can't even sleep. A woman like Suljhana who I recently met.
Having your period in a disaster zone
Suljhana, 30, a teacher now lives in Panga which is a village just outside Kathmandu. We met at an ActionAid meeting specifically for women to air their opinions. She stood up among the 100 women gathered there, and said, in a loud, clear voice, that the women were coping with issues far greater than anyone else's. She made plain the need for specialised support, and said, distinctly, that coping with having your period in a disaster zone was almost unbearable. The women needed specific relief.
At ActionAid, we're acutely aware that women are disproportionately affected by disasters (and do all we can to respond to their needs quite specifically), but I asked her what her thoughts were. She said,
"Women have to perform every day errands like cooking, cleaning and caring for children, even during the aftermath [of the disaster]. This, in addition to social boundaries and women's natural functions, pushes them even further into difficulty in these situations.
"My entire family has been living in these temporary shelters for weeks now, in fear of another great quake. We do not have proper cooking and toileting arrangements here."
Sharing tents is a major issue
Suhljana also told me just how much of a massive problem getting their periods is for women and girls. Sharing tents with others while menstruating is a huge issue, she says.
"Besides family, we share the tents with neighbours and friends. There are usually 15-16 people sleeping under one tent which is extremely uncomfortable for me. I have never been able to sleep soundly in these tents where we have men outside the family and sometimes even strangers.
In our culture we sleep alone when we menstruate
"It is particularly awkward during menstruation periods to share tents with men. In our culture we are supposed to sleep alone when we menstruate but I have no option here in the temporary shelters. During the first two days of my period I bleed heavy and I have been so uncomfortable having to share the same roof with so many people that I could not fall asleep for those two days.
"Menstruation is a taboo in our culture; many of the women are reluctant to talk about it and young girls hesitate to share their trouble. There have been a few cases of young girls having their first menstruation period and they required special attention and counselling. Fortunately we had received the sanitary pads so we managed it well.
Suljhana told me that being provided with extra tents by ActionAid has been critical for women dealing with this crisis - but she says more support is needed.
This is why on top of ensuring women have the privacy they need by supplying tents and building temporary shelters for each family affected by the earthquake, ActionAid is providing women in affected communities in Nepal with vital sanitary kits. We've given out 10,000 already.
These kits include sanitary pads, spare knickers, soap, washing powder and a torch - the essential items women need to feel safe, clean and comfortable.
Please support our KIT appeal now