Chhaupadi, the Dwindling Nepalese Tradition That Turns Women Into Outcasts During Their Periods

Nyaya Health: Mass Community Health Teaching - street theater on menstrual hygiene and the practice of Chhaupadi. Image from Flickr by Possible. CC By 2.0

Nyaya Health: Mass community health teaching. Street theater on menstrual hygiene and the practice of Chhaupadi. Image from Flickr by Possible. CC By 2.0

While Nepal has made “fair” progress in promoting gender equality and empowering women, according to the United Nations Development Programme, news of ‘chhaupadi’ appearing in the mainstream media stand in stark contrast to the country's achievements.

Recently, Setopati, a popular online portal, proudly published a report announcing a village in Jumla district chhaupadi-free.

There won’t be chhaupadi in Dhimkot now.

So, what is ‘chhaupadi’ really?

In far and mid-western regions of Nepal, following centuries-old tradition, menstruating girls and women are shunned, forced to stay outside in cow sheds or small huts so as to spare their family members from being ‘polluted’.

Razen Manandhar, a former journalist with The Himalayan Times daily, writes about chhaupadi in his blog:

[…] They strongly believe that women become impure during those 4/5 days every month and their gods – “Mate”, as they call him – don't like to see women coming to them at this period of time. So, the men force women in their periods to confine themselves in small, narrow huts/sheds without any window or door. […]

[…] Men believe that if women in periods remain in their houses, tigers would come attack them or their cattle. Or the god will be angry at them and they will fall sick. They care more of the invisible god than their own family members. […]

Cecile Shrestha, associate director of programme development for water access non-profit WaterAid America, explains the tradition through her series of tweets:

The tradition also means the girls are not allowed to touch books or go to school and are barred from carrying warm clothes and blankets to the sheds. There is always the fear of wild animals and snakes, not to mention wanton male perpetrators.

They are not even allowed to take nutritious food and milk, fearing that the animal will either fall sick or stop milking.

The tradition is followed mainly in the western hilly districts Doti, Dadeldhura, Achham, Bajhang, Bajura, Darchula, Baitadi, Jumla, Huma, Mugu, Dolpa, Kalikot, Dailekh and Jajarkot, as reported by Rajdhani daily.

Although the Nepalese Supreme Court banned chhaupadi in 2005, it is still rooted firmly in many remote hill villages.

Even women leaders and activists are compelled to follow the tradition. The Himalayan Times quoted Binita BK, the Bajura district treasurer of United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist:

It is obvious that it is a widespread social evil. It is an outcome of conservative mindset. But what to do, we don’t have any other option but to stay separately, away from our house during our periods, when we are in the village.

Though many chhau (sheds) were destroyed following awareness campaigns led by non-governmental organisations in coordination with government agencies, in some places they have been rebuilt to keep the tradition alive.

However, young girls and women are pushing back against the tradition that turns them into outcasts for a few days a month. Thanks to the awareness raised by the NGOs and concerned government bodies, the sheds are being destroyed and more and more villages are becoming chaupadi-free.

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