Photo of an interviewee. Due to the social stigmatization of menstruation, one interviewee covers her face with a mask as she talks about problems during her period.

Fighting Menstrual Discrimination in Bangladesh and Nepal

Menstrual discrimination persists globally, especially in rural Bangladesh and Nepal. CCP Alums Proma Parmita and Diwakar Rai want to change that. Through their CCP Synergy Cooperation, they crafted an educational video on menstrual hygiene to battle stigmata. Proma Parmita explains the challenges women encounter and the video's development journey.

How did you get the idea to produce an educational video on menstrual hygiene?

Proma: Both in Nepal and Bangladesh, talking about menstruation is a taboo. Especially girls from underprivileged communities face many difficulties during that time. By showing a video where they can see other girls talking about their menstruation and sharing their experiences, we want to spread the message that it's okay to face problems during menstruation and talk about them.

Two girls in the back view, washing their hands.
In rural areas, schools often lack adequate sanitary facilities where students can wash reusable cotton clothes they use during menstruation. © Proma Parmita and Diwakar Rai

What kind of struggles do they face?

Proma: Especially in rural areas, safe sanitary products are not accessible to everyone. Most of the girls still use cotton fabrics. If you don't properly wash and dry these fabrics, bacteria can build there easily and might cause health issues such as yeast infection, or in extreme cases even cervical cancer. They usually wash those clothes and hide them behind a window or inside their room to dry, which is difficult in the humid weather conditions. As our organization cannot change the affordability of safe menstrual products, we at least try to educate girls on how to use the materials available to them safely.

The limited access to information on menstrual hygiene is a serious issue. As nobody talks openly about the topic, many girls don’t know how to seek help or what to do.

Proma Parmita

How does awareness of menstruation differ between rural and urban areas in Bangladesh?

Proma: In urban areas, the internet plays an important role. Girls between 19 and 30 can access the internet via their smartphones to find information. In rural areas, however, there are many misconceptions regarding menstruation. The only sources of information are other girls, mothers, or female family members who also were not properly educated on it. Parents in urban areas can let their daughters visit doctors when they feel unwell. In rural areas, access to health services is limited. Unless somebody is seriously ill, they don’t seek a doctor. Menstruation and women’s health issues in general are overlooked. They usually go undiagnosed and without treatment. Yet these issues can be troublesome later when they are in their 20s or 30s or trying to conceive a baby. This is why we try to stress that girls should be diagnosed with any of their issues since their early adolescence.

Many women doing agricultural work.
With long workdays and limited resources, women’s health and menstrual issues are mostly ignored in rural areas. © Proma Parmita and Diwakar Rai

When you grew up, how did you learn about menstruation?

Proma: I didn’t have any access to internet when I had my first menstrual period. I first heard about it from a classmate - and all she told me was rubbish (laughs). When a topic is as taboo as menstruation, it naturally creates lots of myths. When my period started, my mom gave me some sanitary napkins, told me how to use them, and that's it; I had no other source information. In school, there were only some paragraphs in schoolbooks that did not provide very clear information. I faced the same problem these rural girls face nowadays, because in the early 2000s, Bangladesh was even less open about it, even in the urban area I grew up in. I don't want the next generations to face the same problems I faced. I want to build accessible sources for them that can answer their questions.

A doctor sits at a desk and writes something in a notebook. Two girls stand at the edge of the desk and watch her.
A doctor visiting villages in the countryside of Nepal, where the access to health services is limited. © Proma Parmita and Diwakar Rai

How does the educational video reach girls in remote areas?

Proma: To reach them, we needed to involve parents, schoolteachers, and development workers. It is important that they are aware of the problems the girls face, take them seriously and share information with them. We worked with educational institutions in rural areas and explained to schoolteachers why it is important to educate girls on their menstrual period.

How did the teachers react?

Proma: They were interested, but most of them said that they are not sure how the students will react. Some teachers worried that girls would feel uncomfortable, especially with male students present. Yet I think it is important to involve male students and let them know what their female peers go through. Boys often tease girls on their period. We tell them that they should not say something negative to female classmates if they see that she is facing troubles related to menstruation.

You see four young women and a young man at school.
Students in Nepal and Bangladesh often don’t learn about menstruation in school. The topic is surrounded by shame and secrecy. © Proma Parmita and Diwakar Rai

Whenever we go to a school, we try to talk to both female and male students and tell them that menstruation is a regular reproductive process nobody must be ashamed of.

Proma Parmita
Close-up of the faces of three girls. They look serious.
Students often do not know how to deal with problems during menstruation and where they can seek help. © Proma Parmita and Diwakar Rai

Regarding the sensitivity of the topic, which struggles did you face while creating the video?

Proma: When we invited some of the girls to talk about their experience during menstruation, they agreed first. But when they showed up and saw all the cameras and the male cameraman, they hesitated. Some of them even cancelled, and we had to reschedule the entire shooting and look for other people. Some wanted their face blurred or wore masks. This hesitation shows that there are still a lot of societal stigmata that we need to fight.

Other than the video project, how does your organization "Konna Wellbeing Ltd." support women and girls in Bangladesh?

Proma: Konna means Girls in Bengali. We don’t focus on menstruation only but on all health issues that women and girls face to increase their overall wellbeing. We spread the message that they should be careful about both their physical and mental health and try to ease access to medical services. We are also working on an app that works as a period tracker and connects women to medical professionals. Another activity we do that targets rural areas is health screenings, where we check the overall health condition of people who have no regular access to health facilities for free.  

Konna Wellbeing Ltd. helps women in Bangladesh to gain better access to medical care. This project was realized as a CCP Synergy cooperation. Learn more about CCP Synergy as a funding opportunity. The interview was carried out by Paulina Schilling.

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Editors and Authors
You can see a portrait of Proma Parmita.
Proma Parmita

Proma Parmita is a CCP Alumna from Bangladesh who realized her fellowship in 2015 at the organization Eine Welt Netz in Düsseldorf. She is a development practitioner with a strong focus on social research. Along with her work in the socio-economic development, she co-founded Konna Wellbeing Ltd. in 2021 to make health care more accessible and affordable for women and girls.

CrossCulture Programme

The CrossCulture Programme (CCP) enables professionals and committed volunteers to think outside of the cultural box! The fellowship recipients gain professional experience in host organizations in Germany or in one of the over 40 partner countries. The goal of the occupational stays abroad is to strengthen lasting civil society networks between Germany and countries across the globe.