© Fatma Haxhialiu

27.05.2022

Media campaign on taboos goes viral

If girls and women can deal with their periods safely and in dignity, a lot has been achieved to improve health. GIZ is working with social media influencers to promote menstrual health.

The 33-year-old actor Keki Adhikari is a household name in Nepal, a film and TV star and a celebrated model. In 2021 she posted a video on social media in which she talks about menstruation. It went viral in Nepal, amassing more than half a million views.  

‘We need to talk. About menstruation. Don’t be embarrassed. It won’t hurt,’ she declares. Many of Adhikari’s 1.3 million or more followers engaged in a wide-reaching discussion about menstruation and thanked her for broaching the topic publicly. 

In rural areas of Nepal in particular periods are still very much taboo. Only a few years ago there were recurrent reports of girls and women dying because they were not allowed into their homes while they were menstruating. The hygiene situation at schools is often so bad that girls prefer to stay at home – a massive educational disadvantage for them. Menstruation, and the associated problems, was long a topic covered by a veil of silence. And change was a long time coming.

 

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Selfie for health and equality: Director and actress Keki Adhikari at the former German Ambassador to Nepal, Roland Schäfer

Talking about menstruation together  

But the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH was able to recruit Adhikari as an ambassador for a campaign that is designed to radically improve the health of women and girls in Nepal. Behind the campaign is a broad civil society alliance of some 80 organisations, working to encourage people to handle periods with dignity.

With GIZ’s support, 17 schools have already renovated their toilets so that 5,000 girls now feel comfortable using them even when they have their period. GIZ is also supporting two women’s cooperatives that produce women’s hygiene products sustainably. 1.3 million compostable sanitary towels have been distributed free of charge in schools.  

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New syllabuses mean that girls and boys now speak more openly in class about the menstrual cycle. To bring about changes in the way people think, GIZ is working closely with Adhikari, who grew up in a rural area and knows all about the taboos of Nepalese society. The actor knew immediately that she wanted to be part of the campaign. ‘To be marginalised and disadvantaged because you have periods – that’s social injustice. No girl should have to go through that,’ she said. GIZ health expert Sami Pande is convinced that the cooperation is the right way forward. ‘Keki is loved throughout the country, by young and old. She is the face of Nepal. She goes ahead and speaks openly about menstruation – and as a role model she will get many people to rethink their attitudes.’ 

The recipe for success, getting local influencers on board with efforts to improve health, is something GIZ uses in other countries too. The #LetsTalkPERIOD campaign launched by presenter Fatma Haxhialiu, who has over 230,000 followers on Instagram, is on everybody’s lips at the moment in Albania. She too encourages girls and women to talk openly about periods. Only one month after the campaign was launched, over 860,000 people had viewed the videos on social media. Given that Albania’s total population is not quite three million, that offers a great deal of leverage for improving health in the country.