Read time – 6 minutes
Our Freedom Kit Bag Project offers women eco-friendly, hygienic sanitary kits that help to empower them to overcome the cultural and physical constraints of menstruation while also enhancing their health, well-being and confidence. We’re proud to have sponsored several Freedom Kit Bag distributions since 2017 in rural Nepal. In 2021, between lockdowns, the Exodus Travels Foundation funded a training and distribution course for four Exodus local staff, who kindly volunteered to help distribute over 400 Freedom Kit Bags to local villages and train the women who live there how to use them safely. After this hugely successful operation, we wanted to take this incredible initiative a step further, so in June this year, we sponsored the distribution of 500 out of 1000 Freedom Kit Bags. These were delivered to women and girls in three remote villages in the Gorkha District – Gumda, Larpak and Lembu. Alongside the Kit Bag distribution, our teams also got involved in delivering a Sexual Health and Menstrual Hygiene Programme.
The reason why this project is so vital for remote communities in Nepal is that there is still a deeply rooted cultural stigma around menstruation. Some rural villages in Nepal continue to practice the ancient tradition of “Chhaupadi” where they banish women and young girls to sheds or mud huts every month during their period, as menstruation is commonly believed to bring their family bad luck, or ill health. ‘Chhaupadi’, literally translates to ‘untouchable being’. This not only causes low self-esteem among teenagers and young women, who then miss school as a result, but it has also actively deterred women from seeking medical attention for infections that could be life-threatening. Freedom Kit Bags aim to change attitudes towards menstruation in these rural communities by providing period health management classes for young men and women, along with Kit Bags for the women. These bags contain essential items such as washable pads, pad holders, pants, a carrying case, soap, a washing line, pegs and a colourful holder bag.
This year, we were happy to hear that even more local people from the surrounding communities wanted to show their support and get involved. Our team of Exodus leaders, Tenzi and Ajay, and Freedom Kit Bag Ambassadors, Nirmala and Goma, had productive discussions with local women, gleaning insights into the hardships of their day-to-day lives. The women all spoke of how busy they were in their homes and the fields, trying to do the best they can to feed and support their families. However, women in remote villages rarely get the opportunity to earn money, and their husbands are often reluctant to share any of their earnings. The Freedom Kit Bags team recognised the importance of providing these local women with economic opportunities and gave them a chance to get paid for helping with the Kit Bag distribution.
These women worked tirelessly to help carry rice sacks filled with Freedom Kit Bags up the narrow tracks, through streams and across the hillsides, as there are no direct roads leading to Gumda, Larpak and Lapu to transport them by car. This was a huge feat, which took 16 days to complete, with some daily walks taking 10 hours from village to village in the peak of the midday heat.
These women received their own Kit Bag and had the opportunity to attend the class on sexual health. Freedom Kit Bags Ambassador, Nirmala said, “It was wonderful to see how happy they were to be involved – having the opportunity to help other women in the community while earning money at the same time, I think it made a really positive difference to the lives of these women and we hope to empower many more women in future.”
Tenzi Sherpa, Exodus leader and one of the leading members of the team, was keen to share his experience, “After we transported the Freedom Kit Bags, we spent a couple of days in each village chatting to the local women. We had initially planned for one morning session and one evening session with the women, but because of their daily chores, we had to go to them and meet them in the fields to talk about the benefits of the Freedom Kit Bags. Some couldn’t come to the women’s groups as they were very busy harvesting potatoes for their families, but when we met with them it was clear that they were really interested to learn more.” He continued, “In a smaller village around 30 women showed up to hear us speak, and we were surprised how curious they were to learn more about the project – it just shows that there is a real need in schools and the community for this kind of education around menstruation hygiene and sexual health.”
Not only do local women face the continuous stigma around menstruation, but the teams found that some teenage girls need to walk over two hours across difficult terrain just to get to their schools each day – we can only imagine how the girls feel facing these long, hard walks without proper sanitary towels during their time of the month. This is one of the many reasons why Freedom Kit Bags and the sessions educating both women and men on sexual and menstrual health are so important.
During one of the team’s walks to the village for distribution, a young woman carrying a small baby joined them to hear more about the project. She said, “There is no one at home to take care of my child. All of the women are all busy working in fields. It is a busy time of year for us. But we heard about this project, and we like what you’re trying to do here. So, we wanted to come and join you to show our support. We want to be part of the conversation.”
One of our leaders, Ajay (Jaite Pakhrin), commented, “This was the second time I’ve been involved in distributing the Freedom Kit Bags, and I honestly feel like we’re really getting through to people, women and men included. I’m definitely seeing a shift in perspectives when it comes to openly discussing menstruation and that’s big. It’s really rewarding to know that what you’re distributing and the advice you’re giving could change someone’s life. Hat’s off to Exodus and Freedom Kit Bags, from the bottom of my heart. I hope we all continue working together!”
The Exodus Travels Foundation would like to say a massive thank you to all of the team and Freedom Kit Bags and to our wonderful leaders who made this incredible distribution happen!