Understanding Chhaupadi

In some parts of Nepal, there are still places where young girls dread the onset of menstruation.

According to the tradition known as cchapaudi, menstruating women are considered "unclean" and are forced out of their family home for four or five days each month to avoid "polluting" the rest of the family.   Instead, they stay in crude sheds known as "goths" where they must avoid all contact with family members.  Due to the fear of pollution, menstruating women are denied such basic comforts as warm clothes or blankets and are also banned from touching books or attending school. 

Not only are they left at the mercy of the elements (the goths provide little protection from cold weather. wild animals or snakes), but women in the goths also fear being victimized by strange men who might take advantage of their vulnerability.   For that matter, their diet is often highly restricted to avoid polluting farm animals who might provide them with milk.    Women who are breastfeeding their infants are often forced to bring their babies with them into the sheds despite the danger of exposing them to cold weather.  One Nepali blogger writing about  chhapaudi points out that "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."  

Women who violate the practice can find themselves being blamed for any misfortune that may strike, whether it be crop failure, disease, or wild animal attacks.   The fear of being ostracized cuts across all castes in western Nepal.  Even older women resist attempts at change and often force their daughters or daughters-in-law to isolate themselves.   Village elders also insist that women comply and regard attempts at change as attacks on traditional Nepali life. 

While the Nepalese Supreme Court formally banned chhapaudi nationwide in 2005, it continues to be practiced in remote regions of the country.    Even women's rights activists and leaders are often required to follow the tradition whenever they are in conservative villages.  In one newspaper interview, Women Rights Protection Network Bajura Chairperson Parbati Budha bemoaned the fact that she is obliged to follow chhaupadi herself despite campaigning against it for more than a decade.  "“We organise various programmes against chhaupadi," she said.   "We advocate women rights. We say that women should not stay in the shed. But, we are compelled to live in the shed ourselves.”  

There are still encouraging signs that cchapaudi is dying out as Nepali women become more organized and information campaigns take root.  More and more Nepali villages are proudly declaring themselves to be "chhapaudi-free" though overcoming opposition can be overwhelming for many advocates.    Whether a practice that has endured for centuries will be abolished within the lifetimes of women and girls currently living in fear of their monthly periods remains to be seen.

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