Back in 2017, the Exodus Travels Foundation partnered with Freedom Kit Bags to support their distribution of eco-friendly sanitary kits to women and girls in Nepal in an effort to help shift perspectives on the cultural stigma surrounding menstruation. And after another successful delivery in June this year, where we sponsored the distribution of 500 Freedom Kit Bags to the remote villages of Gumda, Larpak and Lembu in the Gorkha District, Head of Sales, Jess Dillon and South Asia Product Manager, Sarah Puttnam, travelled to Nepal in October to deliver more life-changing Freedom Kit Bags. Read on to find out more about the project and their experience on the ground.
The reason why the Freedom Kit Bag project is so important is because some rural villages and communities in Nepal still continue to practice the ancient tradition of “Chhaupadi”. This is where they banish women and young girls to sheds or mud huts every month during their period, as menstruation is commonly believed to bring bad luck, or ill health to their families. The tradition has not only resulted in lowering self-esteem in teenagers and young women, who then miss school as a result of not having access to sanitary towels, but it has also actively deterred women from seeking medical attention for dangerous infections that could be life-threatening. Many women also suffer from illnesses after being exposed to extreme cold in the winter.
Even though the Nepalese government passed a law that made Chhaupadi a criminal offence back in 2017, there are still women in remote communities who fall victim to this cultural practice and are left ostracised, punished, shamed and blamed for their periods. But Freedom Kit Bags aims to change this by educating both women and men in Nepalese communities on sexual health and menstrual hygiene alongside distributing reusable, sustainable sanitary kits.
Joined by Freedom Kit Bag Ambassadors, Nirmala Shrestha and Sumi Shrestha and two male Exodus guides, Milan Gurung and Dipen Gurung, Jess and Sarah were briefed when they landed on how the group were going to distribute the Freedom Kit Bags and present to the local women and girls in Nagarjun, a municipality located in the Kathmandu District.
Reflecting on her time in Nepal, Jess was quick to comment, “Experiencing a distribution day for such a flagship Exodus Foundation project like Freedom Kit Bags for myself was very special. Over 100 women and girls arrived on the day, which was more than we expected – because word had spread through the local community of our visit.” Sarah explained, “We ended up arriving a bit earlier to the distribution and presentation room, so we had time to set up before starting. We were happily surprised to find a completely packed room of women already in the two classrooms, quietly sitting and waiting for the presentation to begin.”
She continued, “It was great, we received a really warm welcome from the head of the district who introduced each of us and (according to my kind translator) was explaining the work the Freedom Kit Bag Project and the Exodus Travels Foundation have been doing to help women in rural communities have access to information and essential items provided in the kit. We were even given a lovely, knitted Kurta (welcome scarf).”
During the presentation, both Sarah and Jess were impressed with how engaged the women in their groups were. “There were over 50 ladies from young teenage girls to older mothers squeezed into the room and spilling out the back, all keenly listening, leaning in to see the flashcards I was holding and responding to the information Sumi, our presenter, was discussing.” She continued, “They laughed along with Sumi’s light-hearted and informal chat, which was something I didn’t expect to see, as I went into this assuming they might be shy and reserved and not keen to talk about menstruation and busting the stigma that surrounds it, but this wasn’t the case at all!”
After helping Sumi demonstrate the contents of the Freedom Kit Bags and how to use each item, emphasising how to clean the kit once it’s been used, they got the chance to chat and spend some time with the local women. Sarah said, “I honestly found the whole experience humbling and very rewarding. The Freedom Kit Bag team were expecting around 100 women to attend but took 124 Freedom Kit Bags with them to distribute to have some spares. Not only did we distribute every single kitbag, but with the team’s help in the days that followed, we were able to arrange for 10 more kits to be delivered to women who couldn’t make the event.”
Jess summed up her experience by saying, “We were glad to see women and girls of all ages eager to learn about menstruation more broadly. It was powerful to witness experiences being shared, normalised, and cultural taboos unlearnt – with lots of laughter along the way.”
Rochelle Turner, Exodus Travels’ Head of Sustainability, highlighted why this project is so vital for so many Nepalese women by saying, “Period poverty, wherever it exists, can lead to mental and physical health challenges for women. Our team, both here in the UK and on the ground in Nepal, are proud to be part of a movement of change in Nepal. By working with Freedom Kit Bags to help educate girls, women, boys and men to understand more about human biology, we get closer to ending the stigma of menstruation and allowing women to participate more fully and equally in their society.”
If you’d like to learn more about our Freedom Kit Bag project and how to donate to this incredible project in Nepal, click here.