By Nissi Thapa; Edited by Leanna Cappiello
18-year-old Manisha*, keeps a pendant around her neck called ‘Jantare’. It’s made of herbs and coated in copper, signifying protection: a physical reminder of an invisible grace that she carries with her everywhere.
Manisha is not alone in hoping for safety. Many girls in Nepalese villages are especially vulnerable because of traditional practices like early marriage and ‘chaupadi’ (when women are isolated during menstruation) are still upheld.
Even though she has her Jantare for protection, Manisha admits to feeling scared, especially when she used to be kept isolated for chaupadi.
On more than one occasion, Manisha and her friend Laxmi* would share stories about their time in isolation during their menses. Each girl would be kept away from the rest of the community for several days in a row, with a restricted diet, and would often encounter bugs and other biting insects in the small space. The shed is not only lonely and frightening, but also unhygienic.
It was when Manisha started taking life skills classes with World Vision that she started learning about her rights. After seeing the downsides of chaupadi, the young girl began advocating against the practice.
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Manisha and Laxmi shared their newfound knowledge with the community. They rallied to take down chaupadi sheds but were met with ridicule, but the girls were determined to speak out against it.
As a result, the proportion of girls reporting the chaupadi in their family dropped from 78 percent to 45 percent.
Even though Manisha is still given a milk products or permitted into kitchen areas during menstruation, she is hopeful that change is coming. “I am not kept in isolation anymore… It is getting better with time,” she says.
*Names changed to protect identity