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Teen girl is challenging centuries-old view of menstruation in Nepal

Access to sanitary products is one of the reasons women in developing countries are held back both in education and equality.

But in some cultures, menstruating women aren’t only denied access to menstrual products — they’re also forbidden from staying indoors.

A new NPR report introduces us to two young women in Nepal who, though they live in vastly different situations, are required to follow certain rules during their monthly menstruation.

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Fourteen-year-old Kamala B.K. lives in the Nepalese village of Thankot and must stay in a shed during her time of the month.

“Because she’s menstruating, she should not be entering another person’s house. It’s disrespectful,” said Cecile Shrestha. Shrestha works with WaterAid, a nonprofit that is attempting to end the long-held tradition known as chaupadi. With chaupadi, women who are menstruating are considered to be impure.

“When they are menstruating, no matter what, they stay outside, they eat outside and they sleep outside,” she said, adding that the sheds usually consist of a platform with no walls and (possibly) a thatched roof.

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Hundreds of miles away in urbanized Kathmandu, 15-year-old Prakriti Kandel faces the same sort of restrictions during her time of the month, except no sleeping outdoors.

“When I’m having my period, I can’t touch my grandmother, I can’t eat while she’s eating. I can’t touch the table while she’s eating. I can’t touch my father, I can’t touch my mother,” she told NPR.

She’s also not allowed in the kitchen, but sometimes she forgets and it upsets her mother.

“It’s kind of confusing. You are just going into the kitchen one day, and the next day you’re not allowed,” she said. “There was a time when my father got sick, and he was hospitalized. The doctors couldn’t diagnose him, and then one of the priests, he said, because I had touched him when I was having my period, it could have infuriated the clan gods.”

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But the precocious teen is trying to change minds about menstruation and chaupadi. “Menstruation is not a taboo, but a power for women,” she said.

Prakriti even wrote a novel, Imposter, where girls who get their periods also get superpowers.

“Because of this belief, because of this ritual, women are not equal to men. So this is just a way of discrimination, and discrimination always hurts,” Prakriti said. “After school, I want to pursue political science at a very good college. And my aim in life is to be the prime minister of Nepal and change things.”

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