I remember watching a video many years ago where an old man (probably in his 70s) says: mahila haru marne bhae marchan, chalan chalirahanu parcha (women can die, but our tradition must go on) when there is news of a woman’s death as a result of Chhaupadi.
Even after so many years, that video clip still lingers inside my mind once in a while and makes me think how fragile women and their lives are in this country.
A news article has shown that in the past few years, 15 girls have been killed because of Chhaupadi. Women and girls are dying and the only reason sometimes is because they are menstruating. Many communities in the far-west still practice the Chhaupadi system even though it has been criminalized years ago. There is so much stigma around menstruation that people would rather let women die than talk about myths and taboos surrounding menstruation.
It is important to realize that confining women and young girls in a small shed/hut for three or more days and keeping surveillance on their daily mobility is a form of violence against women. Many times, we tend to acknowledge physical violence but not violence in other forms. Every woman who has to follow menstrual restrictions is violated of her personal freedom and rights.
Perpetuating false ideas
In a journal article titled, “Menstrual blood is bad and should be cleaned: A qualitative case study on traditional menstrual practices and contextual factors in the rural communities of far-western Nepal”, the authors have tried to explore traditional menstrual practices and contextual factors in far-western Nepal that surround around menstruation. The conclusion of the study shows that menstruating women and girls in the far-west either practice Chhaupadi or face several restrictions even though they are “allowed” to live inside their homes.
Many women and girls are also fed with the idea of menstrual blood being impure, making them feel inferior while they are on their periods. Such an inferiority complex often results in women being less confident and more scared.
Such demeaning ideas are common even among women from urban areas. Although the level of seclusion is much less compared to that of the far-west and knowledge of menstrual health and hygiene is much better with better facilities, many families in urban settings seclude women and prohibit them from doing certain activities while they are menstruating.
Oftentimes, young girls also miss out on schools in comparison to their male counterparts. Although, studies have shown that young girls miss school during menstruation because of lack of proper WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) facilities, this is NOT only the sole reason. Social, cultural and traditional barriers play an equally important role too. For example, women and girls often live under the fear of having stains from menstrual blood in schools and workplaces because of which they withdraw themselves from any activities in the classrooms and workplaces. Similarly, lack of conversation around menstruation and the silence that is observed has also helped in maintaining menstrual stigma across all generations.
In the fight to reduce and eradicate menstrual stigma, I have personally come across many women and girls who have given up on traditional practices and barriers which they once followed. However, not everyone has that choice. Even though women and girls have some knowledge about menstrual health and hygiene and stigma/taboo, it becomes difficult for them to convince the older generation. Women would rather give up and agree to follow the rules rather than having a clash in the family. This is true not just in the far-west but all across the country where women have to face menstrual restrictions.
Restricting economic freedom
The idea that menstruation is “impure” results in limited mobility of women and will often impact their economic freedom and mental wellbeing. When women are restricted for 4-5 days every month, there will be a huge impact, not just on their daily experience but in the larger aspects too. If, for example, an organization has 50 percent women and they are restricted from working during menstruation because of lack of WASH facilities and cultural and traditional barriers, it will be hard for the organization to sustain in the long run. In addition, when women are barred from becoming economically independent, they often give up on gender-based violence.
Every day, there are around 237,250 menstruators in Nepal. Reports have suggested that 89 percent of them face one or many forms of restrictions and exclusion. With so many women and girls still facing discrimination, it is how high time to advocate for dignified menstruation because every menstruator deserves to live with dignity without their life being controlled.
Jyotika Rimal is Advocacy Officer with Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management Partners’ Alliance (MHMPA) Nepal.