This month we speak to Radha Paudel (pronouns: she/her), Founder & CEO of Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation (GSCDM) and member of MenEngage Alliance Nepal.
‘Meet a member’ is a regular feature in the global MenEngage Alliance newsletter. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter. The newsletter has been developed together with the global Communications Working Group. It aims to be a small snapshot into ‘men and masculinities’ work around the world and across MenEngage Alliance.
What do you work on?
As a lifelong rebel, and despite having zero funding, I have been working 24/7 advocating for dignified menstruation. I work through campaigns, advocacy, research, and trainings at local, national, regional and global levels. I have also published books about dignified menstruation and initiated International Dignified Menstruation Day, on 8th December, since 2019. We currently have a global survey open to assess the status of dignified menstruation in schools. It would be a huge help if readers of the MenEngage newsletter can respond to the survey.
Why is it important for people working on ‘men and masculinities' to support dignified menstruation?
During the MenEngage Ubuntu Symposium, GSCDM organized a session looking at the importance of non-menstruators, especially men and boys, to step up their activism to support the fundamental human rights of menstruators (people born with uterus and ovaries). Without dismantling the root causes of taboos, stigma, and abuses related to menstruation, we cannot overcome sexual and gender based violence or achieve human rights for all. Menstrual discrimination is itself gender-based violence, and a violation of fundamental human rights to have life free of discrimination and dignity. It is interrelated with many other forms of gender-based violence, such as child marriage, HIV or female genital mutilation. Thinking about dignified menstruation allows us to recognize the needs and rights of menstruators throughout the lifecycle. Thinking more broadly, it is a holistic tool or approach to examine issues of power and patriarchy in relation to human rights, development and feminism.
How did you get involved in this work?
I am a survivor of menstrual discrimination and war in Nepal. Aged 7, I was taught to believe that menstrual blood is impure, making me inferior, dirty, contaminated, disadvantaged and powerless. I was taught that menstruation destroys peace within myself and within my family and society.
Early in my career, I worked in various projects preventing and responding to sexual and gender based violence, sexual and reproductive health, men and masculinities, and ending Chhaupadi, the practice of banishing girls from the house during menstruation. However, I was not happy at all. I deeply realized I was not finding any answers to the questions I was struggling with since childhood.
The work sometimes repeated old mistakes, or reinforced the same harmful dynamics. We were missing the opportunity of working for dignified menstruation, even though it exists everywhere—sometimes in visible ways, sometimes in hidden ways. It happens in both public and private spaces. It has many forms and goes by different names. It is a systemic issue. And it is symptomatic of the patriarchy. Early in my career, we had not been looking at menstruation in this way. This is how I came to quit all my luxuries in order to work for dignified menstruation.
What keeps you motivated in this work?
The fact that more than half of the world’s population is born with a uterus and ovaries, and yet menstruation still does not get the attention it deserves. The majority of the work around menstruation globally seems to be still superficial and not addressing the root causes of the systemic discrimination and violence menstruators face throughout their lifecycle.
None of the national or international Gender Equality and Social Inclusion policies address the needs of menstruators in meaningful ways. Nor is the issue included in the International Labour Organization Convention 190 on violence and harassment in the world of work. Even within feminism, development, and human rights, stories like mine often go unheard or are misinterpreted.
So I don’t have much faith, as many menstruators are still struggling now, just as I struggled 40 years back. Therefore I am working hard, and will continue till my last breath. Dignified menstruation is not simply a tool or approach. It is a cross-cutting issue. It is a shift in thinking to evaluate human rights, peace and gender equality.
An aspect of the MenEngage Core Principles that resonates with you?
‘We work to disrupt and end patriarchy’. This Core Principle is important for us because dignified menstruation is all about smashing the patriarchy to achieve gender equality.
Can you share some work you are proud to have done?
I have so many happy moments, as well as challenges. However, the launching of the book, ‘Dignified Menstruation: A Practical Handbook’, during the second Dignified Menstruation Day in 2020 was a personal highlight. Overall, I am immensely proud to have developed the concept and field of dignified menstruation. As a survivor from the global south, my voice is equally important.
Subscribe to videos by Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation (GSCDM) on YouTube. You can also find GSCDM on Twitter and Facebook. Find more resources for supporting dignified menstruation on the GSCDM website.