Nepal’s Menstrual Shed Ban: The Hard Work Starts Now, Activists Say

Nepal has banned the practice of banishing menstruating women and girls to sheds. Activists have welcomed the new law, but say there is more work to be done to change people’s minds about the tradition, which has led to a number of deaths in recent years.

(photo-Two Nepalese women sit by a fire in the chhaupadi hut they stay in during their menstruation. AFP/PRAKASH MATHEMA)

POKHARA – Nepal’s Parliament has criminalized the practice of banishing women and girls from their homes during menstruation and after childbirth.

Many communities in Nepal view menstruation as “impure,” deeming women “untouchable” when they have their period. As a result, families force women and girls to sleep in huts away from their homes when they menstruate – a custom known as chhaupadi.

Women and girls are not only banished from the home, but are also barred from touching food, religious icons, cattle and men.

The ancient Hindu practice has been in place for centuries in Nepal, as well as parts of India and Bangladesh.

The new law, which will come into effect next year, carries a three-month jail sentence, a fine of 3,000 rupees (about $40) or both, for anyone who forces a woman to follow the practice.

“A woman during her menstruation or post-natal state should not be kept in chhaupadi or treated with any kind of similar discrimination or untouchable and inhuman behavior,” reads the law, which was passed in a unanimous vote on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court ruled against the tradition in 2005, but it has continued to flourish, predominantly in Nepal’s mid- and far-western regions, where it is estimated up to 95 percent of girls and women are forced to practice chhaupadi.

The western parts of Nepal are characterized by high illiteracy and poverty, low development and significant gender inequality. A 2010 government study found that one-fifth of Nepali women practiced chhaupadi but in the mid- and far-west the figure was significantly higher.

“The forced isolation and forced stigmatization of women [to believe] they are impure and have to go away from their homes has created not only psychological fear for women but also for their children.”

“The forced isolation and forced stigmatization of women [to believe] they are impure and have to go away from their homes has created not only psychological fear for women but also for their children,” says Mohna Ansari, a member of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal who was part of the campaign to ban the practice.

The issue was thrust into the spotlight last year, after two chhaupadi-related deaths in the far-western district of Accham, which had previously been declared “chhaupadi-free.”

One woman died of smoke inhalation after she lit a fire for warmth; the other death remains unexplained.

Last month, an 18-year-old woman from Dailekh in western-central Nepal died from a snake bite while sleeping in a shed.

The Rural Village Water Resources Management Project, which works on improving access to sanitation, found that in the last eight months five women have died due to chhaupadi.

Aside from deaths, the practice has been linked to wide-ranging psychological and physical illnesses. Research from grassroots organization Action Works Nepal found that 77 percent of girls and women felt humiliated during their periods, and two-thirds reported feeling lonely and scared when sleeping in cowsheds, which are not only unhygienic but also potentially dangerous.

The United Nations has found the custom makes women and girls more susceptible to diarrhea, pneumonia and respiratory diseases. They are more vulnerable to rape and abuse when isolated in sheds, and there is an increased risk of infant and maternal death when mother and baby are banished to a shed after birth.

WRITTEN BY Sophie Cousins

Comments
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jean
jean

Editor

@osupowersk8 I agree. It is sad how barbaric the customs against women are in many countries.

osupowersk8
osupowersk8

This should be stopped at first place

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