Leslie Carol Botha: Menstrual traditions – kill women period. These religious beliefs keep women victims. This is a tough one to break. It is not surprising to learn of the violent rapes recently reported in India when such strong menstrual shaming attitudes underlie cultural views of girls and women.
Nepalese menstruation tradition dies hard
SANFEBAGAR, NEPAL — Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Last updated
Like tens of thousands of girls and women across Nepal’s mountainous western districts, Sharmila was practising chaupadi – a Hindu tradition in which menstruating women and girls are isolated because they are deemed unclean.
Girls grow up in fear of retribution if they fail to follow their monthly restrictions – animal attacks, crop failures and water shortages are commonly blamed on women not rigidly following chaupadi. They are forced to sleep in a goth – a mud-walled hut about twice the size of a standard doghouse – or in caves, cowsheds or outbuildings far from their homes. Similarly, after giving birth, women must remain isolated with their newborn for up to 10 days – until they are considered what their society calls “clean.”
Some isolated efforts are being made to break the practice, most in response to young girls like Sharmila dying or being assaulted while they were obliged to practise chaupadi. In one village, Bhageshwar, for example, the local administrative area became what officials call a “chaupadi-free zone” in December. Yet the designation, which means that women in the area no longer sleep in a goth, is largely superficial.
Women have been practising chaupadi in Nepal for centuries. Commonly thought to have originated as a way to give women rest during their menstruation and a break from hard labour, today the isolation and restrictions remain even though women are required to work in the fields.
“Chaupadi is part of life,” said Dwarika Rawal, 26, a community health worker in Bhageshwar who practised it as a young girl. “But now when I remember it, it makes me really angry because now I know that nothing will happen.”