Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April 2014, 16:25 GMT

Nepal: Emerging from menstrual quarantine

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 3 August 2011
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Nepal: Emerging from menstrual quarantine, 3 August 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e3f7ae82.html [accessed 16 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Every month, for one week,14-year-old Kamala Vishwarkarmas returns from school to sleep alone in a dark, windowless mud hut. She is forbidden from entering her family's house during her menstrual cycle for fear of what might happen.

"I'll stay here in the 'goth' for seven days total," Kamala said. "Of course I feel afraid when I go inside by myself. It's so scary during the rainy season when all the snakes come."

'Chhaupadi', Nepalese for the practice of segregating menstruating women from their houses and men, was outlawed by Nepal's supreme court in 2005. But locals say the practice is only now beginning to wane in the western region of Nepal, the only part of the country where the tradition is observed.

A three-year-old initiative in Achham District to create 'chhaupadi'-free zones is slowly catching on, but remains stalled by a division between younger and older generations: the latter warn of disastrous consequences if menstruating women, considered toxic, step inside their houses.

The Hindu gods will punish menstruating women, their family, land and livestock in any number of catastrophic ways if they try to contaminate their homes, they believe.

But many young women like Kamala do not believe in such things.

Kamala has asked to come inside before, but the family elders get angry, she said. Her aunt, Vima Vishwakarmas, who takes care of the grade-nine student, quietly supports her niece's convictions.

"I wish now that she could come inside, but the older family members won't allow it," Vima said.

Kamala spoke of her own cycle without any indication of embarrassment inside her austere 'goth', furnished with a thin mat, a metal plate and bowl on the ground.

Dangers of isolation

Women practising 'chhaupadi' have reported rapes, snake bites and a lack of nutrition because they are not allowed to cook for themselves or eat dairy products, according to a local women-run advocacy organization called the Paralegal Committee. The group launched the 'chhaupadi'-free movement three years ago.

Tula Shahi, a local restaurant owner and health expert contracted by the government, sat in on the Paralegal meeting. She recalled how she once did not eat for seven days while in the 'goth' because there was no one to cook for her. Now she, like all of the Paralegal members, no longer uses a `goth'.

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