August, 2023 marks six years since the Nepalese government passed legislation banning Chhaupadi – the practice of banishing menstruating women to huts and sheds out of the home. However, in many parts of Nepal, the practice continues. This article reports the account of young school going children of Bardiya district who share their Chhaupadi experiences with Aawaaj News.
In many parts of Nepal’s far-west, including Bardiya district, ending the dated and cruel practice of Chhaupadi is still an uphill battle. A couple of weeks back, a 16-year-old girl from Baitadi District lost her life from a snake bite when left alone in a hut that she was forced to sleep in during menstruation. August 2023 marks the sixth year since the Nepalese government passed legislation banning the centuries-old custom – making it punishable by up to three months in prison and/or a fine of NRs.3000. Six incidents of death owing to Chhaupadi have been reported since. While death warrants excessive media attention, thousands of menstruating women who are banished to sheds continue to suffer physically, socially, and mentally due to the practice every single day. Sadly, while it is believed Chaupadi is prevalent in the hilly districts, the practice is increasing in the Terai belt as well.
In a school in Bardiya District, Aawaaj News had the opportunity to interact with several grade eight students about the status of menstrual hygiene in the school and their homes. Three students came forward and said they are asked to live in a hut behind their homes during menstruation. Even for those who did not have to leave their homes, they were faced with several restrictions such as entering the kitchen or the prayer room – but that’s not an entirely rural problem as many women in the cities continue to be restricted from the kitchen and performing pujas during their periods. However, the prevalence of Chaupadi practice struck a deep chord. Ranjana, who has to spend five days in a hut, also suffers from extreme menstrual cramps. “My stomach hurts a lot, and I feel very alone. Also, I feel afraid as it is dark and quiet outside. I cry”, she shared with Aawaaj News – reiterating the fact that menstruating women when forced to huts experience physical, social and mental pain at the same time.
According to Yagya Nepal, principal at Janachahana Adharbhut Bidhyalaya, the practice of banishing menstruating women to huts is largely prevalent in the area, which was echoed by Parbati Sharma, teacher at the same school. “It is still practiced here”, she shares, “not at everyone’s home, but in many homes”. “Yes, students of our school are forced to stay in a hut too” she answered when asked if she was aware her school students were subjected to such discriminatory practices.
When asked if the students took back the lessons they learnt about menstrual hygiene taught in school to their homes, they said they did. “However, they are not willing to listen to us or make any change in behaviour because of it”, they replied. All hope however was not lost, because the young girls said they would not force the practice on their children, or the future generation.
It would also be unfair to say that progress has not been made in minimizing the practice – awareness programs have been empowering societies to abandon such habits, or at least has forced conversations around the issue. Several organizations working in Jajarkot have been able to incorporate economic empowerment of women along with awareness programs and free distribution of sanitary pads, which has been able to initiate some change. However, the pressure must continue, and the efforts must be doubled for the practice to end completely.
It is disheartening to note that this cruel and harmful tradition still persists in many parts of the country. The battle to end Chhaupadi is still quite far from over. The voices of young girls who refuse to perpetuate this practice offer hope for a brighter future, but it is incumbent upon society and the government to redouble their efforts to finally put an end to this harmful tradition and ensure the safety and dignity of all women in Nepal.