Swastika, 18, is an active member of Girls Out Loud Nepal program that provides a safe online space for girls and young women between 13 and 24 years to discuss key gender issues. In closed Facebook groups moderated by trained staff, girls are asking questions and discussing topics such as sexual health and rights, menstruation, gender violence and self-confidence.
Swastika is also a Youth Reporter trained in basic media skills. She loves writing about gender equality and her writing reflects the reality of the society that ignores adolescent girls’ issues. Swastika is born in poor family. She is elder among her siblings. She remembers how her mother was mistreated, humiliated and oppressed in her family when she was growing up. “My mother was ignored and deprived of nutritious food when she was pregnant with my brother who is 8 years younger than I am. I could not stop raising my voice against such domestic violence.”
Women suffers a lot in developing countries like Nepal. It is even worse in rural communities where I belong. I am a menstrual health hygiene campaigner. I had my first period when I was 10 years old. I did not know anything about menstruation. I was sent to a place 5 minutes away from my home. I was given pieces of my mother’s old sari to use. I had no idea how to wear it so I was stained with blood. On the second day of my period, my mother came and taught me how to wear it. Every time I got my period, I was prohibited to see my father and my brother whom I love the most. I was told that if I see them, their life span would decrease. I was not allowed to see the sun nor to touch fruits and flowers. I had to take bath before the sunrise.
Later, I realized that all these are domestic violence. I promised myself to advocate against such violence that adolescent girls face every day and affect their mental health. I am fortunate enough that my parents support my study. I went to district headquarter and studied agriculture. This provided me opportunity to explore other aspect of society where gender stereotypes are still followed.
Swastika regularly shares about menstruation and gender based violence issues in Girls Out Loud. She shared a post-asking question to other members, “Do you know every government schools allocate budget for purchasing sanitary pads every year? But we do not receive quality sanitary pads, why?” She raised similar questions to representatives from the schools and the Menstrual Health Alliance during a panel discussion organized to mark Menstrual Health Hygiene Day 2021 by Plan International Nepal.
Since Swastika also contributes articles for local online news portals, she had raised a valid point during 16 days of activism in Girls Out Loud group, “Why news channels whether it be print, social media or radio do not care the privacy of rape victims? Their identities are revealed but the culprits are hide?”
My fight against gender discrimination will continue until I see adverse change in my community. I started discussing menstrual hygiene and speaking against gender based violence with my mother and other family members. I have established myself as a resource person in my place to discuss about gender equality with clarity. Girls Out Loud Nepal has provided me another dimension of learning where I learned about online safety and security. I realized as adolescent girls are accessing information and education online, they are prone to such violence. Engaging in Girls Get Equal campaign, it empowered me on how to deal with online abuse and harassment. Talking to girls in girls out loud group as well as in my girls club it made me realized girls are not aware of risk of their safety online. I am thankful that I could learn more about #FreeToBeOnline campaign that Plan International is organizing in Girls Meet-Up and educate myself on where and how to report online abuse and harassment. Right after girls meet-up, I shared the information to girls in my girls club and sensitive my community members about cybercrime bureau. Girls reach out to be more additional information. And I reach out to Girls Out Loud to learn more.