A plan with proper study of need identification, monitoring, evaluation, and impacts will be effective in helping the women to slowly un-follow this tradition.
What is Chhaupadi?
Chhaupadi is a tradition followed in western Nepal where menstruating girls and women are banished to live in sheds for four days. Following this tradition, many have lost their lives due to snakebite predominantly in summers, tiger attacks round the year, and suffocation and cold during winters. The practice of Chhaupadi itself is a violation of basic human rights. Many government and non-government organizations are working to eradicate this tradition for decades and this tradition was criminalized in Criminal Code 2074 BS, which mentioned three years’ imprisonment and Rs 3000 fine for people who practice and who force others to practice chhaupadi. But even so, at least four women have lost their lives after Criminal Code came into effect and no legal action has been taken except the arrest of a brother in law of a woman who died in a menstrual hut.
Abolition of chhaupadi has become a huge campaign in Sudur Paschim and Karnali Province after the death of Parbati Buda of Accham District. Following the incident, Nepal Police took action for the first time; it arrested Parbati’s brother-in-law. After that, the Ministry of Home Affairs directed all District Administration Offices to take strict action against those who follow or who force others to follow the tradition. Following the direction of MoHA, DAOs have been conducting campaigns to destroy chhau-sheds.
Discourse on chhaupadi has become a political issue and has been prioritized in the parliamentary sessions these days. But the parliamentarians are divided into two ideologies. Most of the parliamentarians, especially women, are supporting chhau-shed destruction campaign. The campaign is garnering good support from various stakeholders, but the impact of such action may not be positive at all the time.
Taking an example from Bajhang, it can be said that the practice is deeply rooted in the mindset of people and cannot be eliminated by a single step of the destruction of Chhau sheds. Last year, the local government destroyed all chhau sheds and declared this village as chhaupadi free. After that, women from the village went to stay in a cave during menstruation which pushed them further towards more dangerous situations. They became more vulnerable to the risk of wild animal attacks and being sexually abused. Local women from the village, then, rebuilt a communal shed by raising a collective fund on a monthly basis. The Chhau shed destruction campaign wasn’t able to destroy the inherent traditional belief and reconstruct a new view for the women.
Factors that force Chhaupadi
Hence, it is important to find the factors which continually force them to live in the sheds. Another factor that forces them to practice chhaupadi could be their socio-economic status. Lack of access to sanitary pads, proper housing, and water resources could be forcing them to follow the tradition.
Sabitri Gautam, a prominent writer, said it’s a high time to take radical actions against the tradition because tools like awareness campaigns don’t work successfully to eradicate it wholly. Since chhaupadi is a criminal offense like murder or rape, and it violates the rights of women violating national and international laws, the tradition has been criminalized. So nothing can be justifiable to follow the tradition, she added.
Durga Banjade, Chief District Officer of Jumla, said that she is conducting a sweeping campaign to destroy all the Chhau sheds by forming a working committee in the district. The committee comprises of local men, women, teenagers, lawyers, teachers, local shamans, and healers as well as other stakeholders. She also said that local healers and shamans will be the leading actors of the campaign as they have the most say in times of crises in the villages and are also the ones who plant the ideology of undignified menstruation in the minds of women.
Eradication of chhaupadi has become a movement in the far eastern provinces, which is a positive step, but the major concerns are: who should be accountable and responsible for the negative impacts of the destruction campaign? What is the status of the preparedness of the local government to handle those impacts? The mental health of local women is also an important aspect while assessing impacts of the campaign because the tradition is highly associated with their belief; they fear the unknown that something bad will happen if they do not follow the tradition that has been followed for generations. Hence, a proper study should be conducted to evaluate and monitor the effectiveness and impacts of this campaign.
What can be done?
Now, what could be the solution? Many people are calling to build safe sheds, but safe and improvised sheds cannot be the solution, as it reinforces the notion of undignified menstruation. Instead of forceful actions that make them more vulnerable, the women need to be made aware of menstruation without hurting their religious and traditional sentiments. A study shows that most of the women follow the tradition due to the fear of elders and local shamans. They have created a religious fear among women and women have also internalized menstruation as a sin. There is a need for a sweeping change in the thought process, methods of education, and the idea of the human body.
By analyzing all negative and positive impacts of the campaign, the organizations should implement programs that reconstruct their beliefs. Hence, to eradicate this ill practice, all strategic and practical needs should be well addressed. A plan with proper study of need identification, monitoring, evaluation, and impacts will be effective in helping the women to slowly un-follow this tradition, and then a future target to completely abolish it can be planned.
Author: Prabha Poudyal
Photo: Pratik Gurung
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