Nachune, the Nepali name for a menstrual cycle, means “untouchable”. That’s what women are told they are when they first start their period, says Rubina Raut who lived in Nepal until the age of 12.
When her first period came around she practiced Chaupadi a Nepalese custom that varies depending on the region. For Raut, it meant segregation from all family activities. She stayed at her aunt’s home for one week, and was not allowed to go out into the Sun, look at men or touch plants, which would die if she touched them.
In some extreme cases, families practicing Chaupadi banish women to a hut or shed outside the home. The belief is that menstruating women can cause bad luck, like illness in the family or crop failure. The banishment leaves women open to danger.
Last year, it was reported that an 18-year-old died from a snakebite while staying in one of the sheds. A 15-year-old girl died from smoke inhalation after lighting a fire to warm the shed in December. The month before a young woman died of undetermined causes while staying in a chaupadi shed.
While Raut’s experience was not as lethal, she still recalls feeling emotional pain as a result of the stigma. And, because menstrual products were not available, Raut and her sister used her mother’s old sari as an alternative.
While it was environmentally friendly, says Raut, it was still uncomfortable and prone to leakage. Now a trained scientist, Raut decided to create a menstrual device that was not only comfortable and environmentally friendly, but also stylish and free of stigma.
WUKA Wear looks like an everyday piece of underwear but it comes with an absorbent layer, an anti-microbial layer and a leak-proof layer. Worn for up to eight hours dependent on flow, the WUKA underwear holds up to four tampons worth of blood.
Its soft and stretchy modal fabric and absorbent fabric is said to make the underwear period proof for both light and heavy days. It’s sleek design also removes the bulk found in other eco-friendly alternatives.
WUKA Wear is made from Beech tree fibres, making it kind to the planet. Ruat claims that one WUKA replaces 100 tampons or pads from polluting the planet. “My aim with WUKA Wear is to bring science and design together to make menstruation hassle free and little bit luxurious,” explains Raut.
While the Nepali government has since enacted a new law that punishes family members who practice Chaupadi, women and people who experience menstruation still face stigma all over the world. WUKA Wear is one project trying to provide a seamless alternative that is good for the body and environment.