Nepal Outlaws Hindu Menstrual Shaming Tradition “Chhaupadi” Which Shuns Women From Society

We’ve talked a lot about menstrual stigma and period shaming. How it affects women in developed countries like America and the US with ridiculous “tampon taxes” and women being denied access to hygiene products in jails, for instance. However, in the developing world, menstrual stigma and period shaming often carries a far-reaching impact into many other areas of a girl or a woman’s life.

It can affect her ability to go to school, participate in religious traditions and be financially independent. Nepal is one of the countries that has used non-medical rules to alienate women from public life, but has finally changed this outlook through important legislation.

Previously, the country enforced the Hindu tradition called Chhaupadi, which stipulated women be banished to animal sheds during the time of menstruation in order to keep their “impurity” away from the rest of society, according to a piece in the Guardian. Seriously.

Although the practice itself was a banned by the Supreme Court in 2005, there was no system in place to enforce it, until now. The Nepalese Parliament has now criminalized the practice, which includes a 3-month jail sentence and a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees.

The bill was introduced by a panel of Parliamentarians, spearheaded by Krishna Bhakta Pokharel who said it was aimed at protecting the safety of vulnerable women. Two teenage girls tragically died as a result of Chhaupadi. A 19 year-old girl died in July from a snake bite after sleeping in a shed overnight, and a 15 year-old died in December 2016 after suffocating in mud hut which caught on fire which she started to stay warm.

Although the new penalties are good news to accompany the 2005 Supreme Court ruling, the law will not go into effect right away as the government wants to launch a series of campaigns to raise awareness of the issue in order to reframe mindsets and attitudes toward the practice.

Human rights groups say education is incredibly important if the country ever hopes to fully outlaw this ridiculous tradition. International charity WaterAid, which works to improve lives by providing access to clean water and sanitation, says there needs to be more dialog around the importance of menstrual hygiene, which can break down stigma as a result.

“The new law is a positive step and shows a real commitment to bringing an end to this ancient practice, which has such a detrimental impact on the lives of women and girls. However making Chhaupadi a criminal act on its own may not be enough to prevent women and girls being banished during their menstruation,” said Tom Palakudiyil, the charity’s south Asia director.

Plan International’s Country Director Sven Coppen also applauded the Parliament’s decision, saying it is great news for girls.

“What girls eat, where they can go, what they can touch and who they can interact with are all severely restricted when they have their period – and this has a hugely negative impact on their lives. It not only causes them to miss out on school, but also makes them feel ashamed and unclean, puts them at an increased risk of abuse, increases their vulnerability to illnesses and sexual violence and also limits them in what they believe they can achieve in life,” he said.

Women who are banished during their menstrual cycle are at greater risk of animal attacks, rape, and are also treated with lack of dignity by their own families and communities, being denied food and water. WaterAid emphasizes the need for access to clean water and sanitation in order for these women to go through menstruation with safety and dignity. There are some who even believe a woman’s period could be the cause of natural disasters if they are not isolated from society. This is an horrendous violation of human rights.

“The tradition is deeply entrenched in the culture of many communities, so we need to understand and address the root cause to bring about sustainable change,” said Tom Palakudiyil.

The new law will be implemented in August 2018 which means the government and human rights groups have a year to shift community mindsets, especially those which are stoically adherent to the Chhaupadi tradition. Politicians recognize the challenge that lays ahead in terms of reforming culture, but it is a task that must be undertaken.

“Community and women’s rights campaigners must remain vigilant and report any case of Chhaupadi. Such vigilance will force the government to strictly enforce the law,” said Renu Rajbhandari, head of the National Alliance for Women’s Human Rights Defenders.

De-stigmatizing periods in Nepal is an important step toward gender equality for women and girls. We applaud the government for taking action and hope to see major reform as they launch awareness campaigns around the country.




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