Defying Tradition

Dr. Aruna Uprety
Dr. Aruna Uprety

Media reports of the practice of Chhaupadi are full of harrowing tales of suffering, and women dying of cold or suffocation during their monthly exile to the cowshed.

A recent trip across eight districts in Nepal’s Far West revealed a critical mass of women who are defying the practice and overcoming the superstitions that perpetuate it. Each of the women have a different reason for shunning the shed, but together they are breaking an entrenched taboo that has come to epitomize gender discrimination in Nepal.

In Achham, a 23-year old girl bravely decided to stay at home, even though her mother goes to the shed. On occasions when they menstruate together, the daughter cooks food inside and takes it out for her mother. She says indignantly, “The municipality says there must be a toilet at home, but no one ever discusses that women must not be forced to live in cowsheds.”

Nirmala BK, 30, is also from Achham and is an example of how a mother’s courage can help eliminate practices like chhaupadi. Since she was not allowed to cook during her periods, Nirmala’s children would walk through town carrying flour, and beg people to cook roti for them. After seeing how miserable they were, the mother resolved to stay home and cook during menstruation.

There is superstition that the shaman will shiver if a menstruating woman touches him. So, 35-year-old Gangadevi Bista from Doti decided to test that. Feigning an illness, Bista showed her hand to a dhami during her periods, but not a shiver from him. She made sure the whole village found out about it.

This shed in Kailali used for menstural banishment it has now been turned into a store room for rice husk.

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