Written by Guest Blogger Aditi Sharma, Founder and Chair of Kalyani
This blog is part of Irise International’s #12DaysofChristmas Campaign.
Chhaupadi – The curse of menstruation
A woman died in the August floods in the far western region of Nepal this year – simply because she was menstruating. It may sound archaic and unreal but these kinds of incidents are not uncommon in mid and far west Nepal. Unfortunately, I have no reference for this piece of information. After hearing about it in the local radio news, I looked everywhere on the net and newspapers to see if anyone else reported the same. There was nothing. So did it not happen? Was it not worth making then news? Or is it just an example of how women are valued in the far western villages of Nepal?
According to the radio, the woman had been banished out of her house to the cow-sheds because she was menstruating, as part of an age old social tradition called ‘Chhaupadi Pratha’, while her entire family was well-sheltered at home. Chhuapadi Pratha is still widely practiced in the far-western region of Nepal where women are banished from their homes to the sheds during their monthly periods or childbirth. The sheds that women are made to live in, for 4-5 days during their regular menstruation and 11-15 days during childbirth, are made of mud, straw and grass. They are highly unhygienic, unventilated, unsafe, cold, dark and uncomfortable as they are hardly large enough to fit a grown adult. Menstruating women are considered untouchables and impure during this time. It is believed to be a bad omen for the menstruating women’s families and cattle if they live at home instead of the sheds. During a time when women need the most amount of care, they are not only deprived of nutritious food but are also forbidden to drink milk or pick fruits as it could cause milk-giving cows or fruit-bearing trees to die. Every year many women die in the Chhaupadi sheds due to hypothermia, pneumonia, snake bites, asphyxiation and even rape. Although, these incidences are reported in the news, there is a lack of proper statistics as to how many women are affected by the tradition of Chhaupadi.
The ordeal of menstruating girls doesn’t end there. Villagers reportedly accuse them of being possessed by evil spirits and extreme measures are taken by the local traditional healers, ‘jhakris’, where they allegedly beat girls in front of other villagers and use other forms of physical and verbal abuse.
All human rights derive from dignity and yet ‘dignity’ for women in these areas is a far-fetched idea. Humiliation and shame have always been a part of their lives. Being treated as bad luck and untouchables leave girls with little or no self-esteem. The position of women is clear from this video clip on Chhaupadi which shows a man from far west Nepal likening the women of the village to dirty cattle. Most women, unfortunately, have resigned themselves to this tradition and very few try to defend their right to equality, proper care and dignity.
Although Chhaupadi was declared illegal by the Government of Nepal in 2005, it is still openly and widely practiced almost all around the far west region and in some parts of the mid west region. Since the tradition has been around for centuries, it is deeply ingrained in society. There have been many campaigns against the tradition by I/NGOs and slowly some villages have abolished the tradition completely. However, government regulations and campaign efforts by I/NGOs are not enough. The most effective way to completely abolish Chhaupadi tradition is to educate young girls and boys, their parents and religious and other leaders at the community level about menstruation as a natural process rather than a taboo.
Want to know more about Chhaupadi Pratha? Watch this informative video from Al Jazeera:
Aditi Sharma has an MHP from the University of Sheffield. As part of her degree she completed a work related research placement with Irise International where she conducted a narrative review to explore the health and social impacts of menstrual hygiene in Nepal. She is currently working as a Research Associate for Green Tara Nepal (GTN) in association with the University of Sheffield in the Health Promotion Project. She is also the project lead for the Menstrual Hygiene Management Project run by GTN in Nawalparasi district of Nepal. She is also the founder and Chair of Kalyani – a recently established NGO that aims to empower rural Nepali women through sustainable livelihoods.
Cover image: Traditional healer with young girl; Photo c/o WaterAid