Shamed for bleeding

Nepali women still have to deal with period shame

How many of you have slept in a menstrual hut? The idea of a ‘menstrual hut’ might sound ridiculous to many but it is a real thing.

In some parts of western Nepal, women are made to sleep in huts and even cowsheds away from their home during menstruation. In addition to being a clear violation of human rights, there are numerous cases of horrible experiences women have while observing this practice, known as Chaupadi.

Practiced by Hindu families in Nepal and some places in northern India, Chaupadi is a menstrual taboo which considers periods to be dirty and impure.

Women are at risk of physical and sexual assault during the time they spend in chau goths every year, coupled with cold temperatures and snake bites.

The practice was banned in 2005. In 2018, it was criminalised. But the practice still exists in the absence of severe penalty. Currently, anyone who is charged and convicted for forcing a woman to observe Chaupadi is subject to a three-month sentence and/or a fine of a few thousand rupees. But the consequences slapped by the government on the guilty have done little to deter people from giving up the practice altogether.

Lack of proper hygiene, safety and privacy during periods is one of the main concerns for women living in such shelters.

Tipping point on menstrual banishment in Nepal, Marty Logan

But the practice of Chaupadi is not confined to western Nepal. A muted version of the practice is observed even in progressive cities like Kathmandu.

In some households in Kathmandu, girls are not allowed to touch books during and after their period for three to seven days, making it harder for them to compete against boys in school.

In cities, many families still do not allow the women in their families to go to the kitchen, touch the water tap or the refrigerator. Menstruating women can only eat and drink what is given to them.

The rules prescribed to girls during menses is much worse in other parts of the country, all of them clearly boiling down to the patriarchy and society’s need to control women.

It has always been extremely frustrating to me to witness a society that chooses to be advanced in some areas and traditionalist in other ways. Being selectively progressive and conveniently conservative does have strong undertones of cruelty.

Bloody period, Nepali Times

Most Nepali women have said that menstrual taboo is mostly enforced by older family members and religious leaders because they probably grew up watching the same thing repeat itself in every generation.

Nepal’s patriarchal society plays a huge role in enforcing such rules. But as women, some of us still follow aspects of it because it can be hard to change them if you grow up in that environment even if it does not make sense.

I ‘violated’ some of the menstrual taboos when I went away for college because if I did not cook for myself during my periods, no one else would. However, the practice has been so deeply ingrained in me, that despite living abroad for 20 years I am still unable to light the incense and pray to deities during the four days.

The belief is so deeply instilled in my psyche that I still feel a slight awkwardness buying tampons at drug stores. Every morning, I still light an incense to three Hindu deities in my house except for the four days of na chune. I do not want to force change; I want to evolve naturally.

I understand now that it is difficult to completely change your ways, but it is not impossible to try to see things from another’s perspective. But most people never try. If a person who is having her period chooses to follow the rules, it is entirely up to her, but the problem is when you force it upon them, which is the case in many families.

Communicating to remove menstrual taboo, Sewa Bhattarai

Growing up in a Hindu family in Nepal, I learned to acknowledge and accept that periods were ‘dirty’. During a cousin’s wedding in Kathmandu, I was not allowed to participate in the religious ceremony-- one of the worst experiences. It was aggravated by the fact that every aunty was telling me how sorry they felt for me. It made me feel like it was a bad thing to have periods and that it was bad to be a woman because I would not be in that situation if I was a man.

Growing up, I used to see commercials for sanitary pads where women would be dressed in all white running around fields or deciding to take on a sport looking extremely happy. I wondered when I would be like one of them, only to realize years later that it was all a lie because the story was completely different in people’s homes.

Girls and women are made to feel ashamed for this natural process and then treated like outcasts at home and in social settings-- discrimination in the name of religion.

Rejecting social banishment is not meant to disrespect any culture or tradition, but a means to address the levels of awkwardness and discomfort experienced by women. Haven’t we moved forward enough in the world to not analyse and judge women who may be having their period?

The other side of the story is that if a girl or woman, never gets her period, she is considered ‘barren’ which also does not have a positive connotation. Either way, women are not allowed to win.

Girls need proper guidance and mentorship when they are growing up so they can understand that having periods is natural. It is not necessary for every girl to announce her period, but is important to teach all girls that this is not something they should be ashamed of.

Read also: Pandemic deepens period poverty, Geeta Pradhan

Anjana Rajbhandary


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