Breaking Down Gender and Generational Gaps in Nepal
"Saroj has grown into a confident speaker and an advocate for positive change in the community"
“The barrier between boys and girls in our school has been broken,” says Saroj Thapa, a 16-year-old boy who works as a volunteer peer educator after receiving training by both groups. “Now we sit at the same desks with girls, even if they are menstruating. No one teases the girls anymore.”
Saroj is from the town of Jaubari in rural Nepal, not far from the epicentre of the devastating earthquakes that left over 8,000 dead in 2015.
Growing up, he recalls it was taboo to talk about sex, or even to be seen talking too often with girls. Friendship and conversation between genders was difficult, and usually occurred under the watchful eye of parents and elders.
“People were always suspecting something,” says Saroj. “We were never allowed to walk to school with girls our age. Sometimes we couldn’t even speak to girls.”
Long-held views have resulted in periodic isolation of girls, restricting their social and educational advancement for generations, and often leaving them behind in the process.
“During menstruation we had to stay outside the house, sometimes we had to go into sheds with the cows. We were untouchable to family members,” says Muna Thapa Magar, a 16-year-old girl from a village not far from Saroj’s. “During menstruation, we couldn’t even see our brothers.”
Across Nepal, many girls of all ages face isolation during their periods, resulting in weeks of missed school each year. These stigmas are often reinforced by boys their own age.
“We didn’t like to sit on the same benches as girls and if they were having their periods, we would never study together either,” says Shyam Panta, 11.
International Medical Corps is helping to change attitudes and break taboos about sexual and reproductive health in small towns and rural areas of Nepal. Together with the local national non-government group SOLID Nepal, International Medical Corps has trained young volunteers as peer educators to communicate vital—and factual—sexual and reproductive health information to their classmates.
Saroj was one of many who saw a chance to make a positive difference, becoming an advocate for gender equality after receiving training from International Medical Corps.
His father Dhurba has watched his son’s development with pride.
“Saroj has grown into a confident speaker and an advocate for positive change in the community,” he says.
Speaking about his own experience, Dhurba adds: “I realise now that we parents did not have enough knowledge before.”
International Medical Corps’ Sexual and Reproductive Health programme also assists pregnant mothers and their newborns. Through this initiative, female community health volunteers are given a mobile phone platform that helps register pregnant women in remote villages. This has led to a significant increase in the number of antenatal care visits and institutional deliveries in the villages.
Tikakumari Khadka, 59, has been a female community health volunteer for 30 years. She is one of many who use the new mobile health platform.
“I used to have to travel a long way and across difficult terrain to get information on pregnancies and then deliver it to the health facilities,” she says. “Now we can communicate via the mobile platform.”
Tikakumari, who is illiterate, has mastered the platform and has used it to help people across her community.
“I was terrible with technology before,” she recalls. “I would never have dreamed that I would be able to use a mobile phone to help people with their health.”
James Cooper, International Medical Corps’ Programmer Officer in Nepal, says: “Because of these International Medical Corps initiatives, more people across generations now have access to fundamental reproductive healthcare services.
“An adolescent learning about reproductive health in school may find their expectant mother guided through her pregnancy by those with modern tools and up-to-date training."
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