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Rekha Rokhaya

Call handler, Marie Stopes Nepal

"When I put myself in the shoes of these women, I realise this service is necessary and important.”

Across much of Nepal, attitudes towards sex are so conservative that even holding hands in public is considered taboo. For many young women experiencing issues related to sexual and reproductive health – including unplanned pregnancy – trusted advice can be hard to find.

Marie Stopes Nepal’s free helpline Meri Sathi (‘My Friend’ in Nepali) supports around 3,000 callers a month, 70% of them under the age of 25. Call handler Rekha Rokhaya describes the work of the helpline as “breaking down barriers”, increasing awareness of women’s reproductive rights and putting callers directly in touch with the services that can help them.

We receive many calls from women. They are often excluded in society and don’t have access to basic services.
Rekha Rokhaya

“Many times our Sathi (‘friends’) are confused and scared,” she says. “Some think their sexual desires are symptoms caused by a disease, or that they have an illness. They are panicking. Our counselling helps them to calm down so they can openly share their problems.”

Rekha grew up in rural Jumla, so knows all too well the challenges that women and girls in remote areas face in accessing services. “In remote areas, people often have to travel long distances to visit a hospital or clinic to get medical counselling. We receive many calls from women. They are often excluded in society and don’t have access to basic services. When I put myself in the shoes of these women, I realise this service is necessary and important.”

Women share with us when they can’t share it with anyone else.
Rekha Rokhaya
"Once she knew that she was pregnant, she had bought medicines from the medical store for an abortion. She tried that twice but the medicine didn’t give her any results. She was scared and said she did not know what to try next."

Rekha speaks with an average of 40 callers a day, but there is one caller – a woman from Surkhet, a remote district in the foothills of the Himalayas – who stands out in her memory.

“One day I received a call from a Bahini (‘younger sister’), who was unmarried. While talking to me she sounded tense and panicked, and then she started crying and shared her problem. She shared that she was pregnant by her secret lover who was a close relative. Once she knew that she was pregnant, she had bought medicines from the medical store for an abortion. She tried that twice but the medicine didn’t give her any results. She was scared and said she did not know what to try next."

After calming the young woman down, Rekha was able to reassure her that abortion is permitted in Nepal up to 18 weeks if the pregnancy has resulted from incest. She put the woman in contact with her nearest Marie Stopes Nepal centre, who after a thorough consultation, were able to end the pregnancy safely.

That night, the woman called back to thank Rekha. She said that, because of her, she was now able to move on with her life. “Callers tell me they like our service a lot. They tell me they can share their entire problem like to a close friend. They share with us when they can’t share it with anyone else.”

Rekha's story features in: Global Impact Report: The first step - click the link to read the report.

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