15-year-old Sushma photographs herself in Sindhuli, Nepal, after taking part in a participatory photo project run by WaterAid. In Sushma’s community, traditional beliefs state that girls are not allowed to look in a mirror or use a comb when they first get their period.

In a small rural village in Sindhuli, Nepal, 15-year-old Sushma and her friends share a common experience.

When each of them got their first period, they were sent away from their homes, to make sure they didn’t come into contact with their male relatives.

This is just one of the deeply-held superstitions that surround menstruation in the girls’ community — along with not being able to look in a mirror, eat papaya or drink cow’s milk.

Here, using cameras for the very first time, Sushma and six of her friends document the taboos they face every month, and the profound impact they have on their daily lives and relationships.

After taking part in a photography workshop run by WaterAid, seven girls from Sindhuli captured their experiences of having their period. Left to right: Sushma, Bishesta, Bandana, Sabina, Rabina, Manisha and Rita.

Rabina: my first experience

I had gone to collect grass and firewood when I got my first period. I never knew menstruation was about bleeding, so when I started I got very scared. There was no one to help me. I didn’t know how to use pads and had a hard time coping with the changes. That’s why I try to help younger girls.

Manisha: Eating papaya is not a sin

This is my aunt slicing papaya. During our period we are not allowed to eat fruits like papaya, mango and banana. But when I had my first period, I ate papaya and nothing bad happened to me. Eating fruit during your period is healthy and papaya is one of my favourites. It’s not a sin at all.

Bandana: my best friend

This is my best friend Manisha. She has helped me in every moment of my life. During my period I used to suffer from headaches, vomiting and stomach aches. She helped me by bringing me medicine.

Sabina: Are brothers untouchable?

These are my brothers. Pujan is on the left, Bimal is in the middle and Uttam is on the right. During my first period I was kept in my friend’s house. I was told not to see male members of my family. I don’t think it will make any difference if I touch my brothers. I wish my younger sisters would not go through all these hardships.

Rabina: Menstruation — my pride

This is where I wash myself and my pads. But when there are men around the tap I feel uncomfortable. We are told that we are not supposed to wash our used pads in front of men, so I do it when there’s nobody around.

“I have been following the list of dos and don’ts, as instructed by my parents, since I started menstruating. However, in school we are taught that it’s a natural process, so I ask myself why only women have to feel ashamed by the changes they go through. After all, changes are prevalent among boys too.”
 — Manisha

Bishesta: Both of us are equal

This is my kitchen. In this picture, my mother and brother are sitting down to have dinner. During my period, I am served separately and have to eat on a rug on the floor. I feel very sad. At other times, me and my brother are treated equally. So why am I discriminated against during my menstrual cycle?

Sabina: Need of water for cleanliness

I always wash my clothes at this tap stand. It only runs water in the morning for a few hours, so most of the time this place is crowded. During our periods we need more water to keep us clean, but due to the limited supply it is very difficult.

Sushma: Need for girl-friendly latrines

This is the girls toilet at our school. It doesn’t lock properly. If someone is inside, someone else has to wait outside, pushing the door. Because of the lack of toilets we have to wait in a long line. This is why we need more girl-friendly toilets.

“I was told that if I touch them, the pickles will start to rot. But I thought that was not possible, so I touched the bottles of pickles when nobody was around, and nothing happened. After that I realised that not touching pickles during menstruation was nothing but superstition.” — Bandana

Hope, health and dignity

Working with our project partner NEWAH, with funding from UKAID, WaterAid is ensuring girls in Sindhuli have access to the decent toilets, clean water, information and support they need to manage their periods with dignity, so they can stay in school.

We’re also asking the UK Government to uphold the commitments made in the Global Goals, to reach everyone everywhere with these essential services by 2030.

Make sure change happens. Add your name to our Toilets Save Lives petition >

The girls’ photos capture many other superstitions in their community. Left to right/top to bottom: girls are not allowed drink cow’s milk, trim their nails or take part in certain community activities when they have their period. They are also forbidden from looking directly at the sun and must find places to wash themselves and their pads discreetly. Despite these taboos, many girls continue with these activities, often in secret. ©All photos: WaterAid