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