Getting real on leaving no one behind: Women’s periods and the SDGs in Nepal

BY Stine Heiselberg, Bronwyn Russel | April 19, 2018|Comments 0

Who are Nepal’s most vulnerable groups, and how is their vulnerability similar or different from other countries?

This wasn’t a rhetorical question for the Inter-Agency Common Feedback Project (CFP), an inter-agency initiative of the UN in Nepal, but a must-know in order to properly structure their priorities for the 2018-2022 UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). Key in answering this question, was to get in touch directly with those vulnerable groups and to listen to their experiences.

To target the areas where there’s a clear gap, we designed a community perception survey that would allow us to fully grasp why certain populations are falling behind in development progress, and most importantly, to help them catch up. We spoke with members of the UNDAF thematic groups from various UN agencies to develop a questionnaire that would also help us amplify existing data sources for future programming efforts.

As a next step, we selected districts by aggregating the Human Development Index (HDI) at the provincial level and identified the provinces with the lowest HDI. Then, we identified districts within those provinces and pulled the data that would reflect as many UNDAF-related areas as possible.

In October last year, we mobilized 30 enumerators across nine districts (Kailali, Achham, Bajura, Muhu, Dailekh, Rukum, Mahottari, Sarlahi, and Rautahat) over the course of two weeks. A total of 1,800 respondents completed the survey. To get our hands on qualitative data, we also held 12 focus group discussions in targeted communities facilitated by team members of the Common Feedback Project. This helped to contextualize quantitative findings and provide greater insight into the survey results.

Making sense of all the data

Once we collected the data, we put on our investigator hats to analyse results and disaggregate overall findings by district, age, gender, ethnicity and occupation. We did this to drill down and pinpoint factors that may influence how people in different regions are experiencing development.

By far, the most effective surveys were the ones administered and analysed without pre-existing bias or predictions, which is what we strived for. The final product was a 39-page infographic style report that breaks down the responses based on focus areas, including detailed analysis of the survey feedback.  

Some UN agencies are already focusing more in detail on the results that impact their mandate which could guide their future work.

Debunking cultural misconceptions

One of the things that came up during the surveys is the practice of chhaupadi, through which women are banned from their homes, public areas, temples, and schools during their menstrual periods. According to our findings, this still remains a regular practice even though it was outlawed in 2017.

To contextualize these findings, we held focus group discussions to in Dailekh, a district where only half of the population is literate, and the Human Development Indicators are extremely low. From the focus group discussions, we learned that school teachers often ask female students to stay at home for four days during their periods.

This is a problem because school girls miss up to one fifth of the school year. Beyond this impact on education, the practice of chhaupadi has far reaching implications. A number of women die annually from animal bites, infections, and smoke inhalation as they stay in unsafe and unsanitary shacks during their period.

The good news is that some communities are beginning to understand that this ostracizing practice is damaging and unnecessary. And with collective efforts to raise awareness, this practice can be eliminated. In the western district of Mugu, chaupaddi is now considered a thing of the past, in part, due to the investments at the community level to teach people about the biological aspects of the menstrual cycle and the impacts of excluding women and girls from their communities. In several districts in Nepal, UNFPA and UNICEF are providing life skills education to girls and boys, both in and outside of school. A programme called Rupantaran (which means “transformation”) empowers and enables adolescents to become change agents in their communities.  

What’s next

We are committed to giving communities a voice at the table from the very beginning of our planning efforts.  The Common Feedback Project team will continue to support the UN team to integrate feedback from communities into their development plans. As part of this effort, we are currently designing a new community perceptions survey to better understand the dynamics of harmful traditional practices such as chaupaddi. The data collected will inform UN joint programmes to eradicate these practices. We will keep you posted on our findings. Check back with us in the next few months!

Authors


Stine Heiselberg Stine is Head of the UN Resident Coordination Office in Nepal. You can follow her on Twitter.
Bronwyn Russel Bronwyn is Project Management for the United Nations Resident Coordinator Office in Nepal. You can follow her on Linkedin.

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