Nepal outlaws custom of exiling women during their periods
Campaigners welcome introduction of jail sentences and fines for isolating women during menstruation but warn education is needed to end stigma
Published : 12 Aug 2017, 17:08
Nepal has passed a law criminalising the practice of banishing women to huts during their periods.
The ancient Hindu tradition of Chhaupadi, whereby women are confined to animal sheds during menstruation to keep “impurity” out of the home, was banned by the supreme court in 2005.
But the practice has remained prevalent in Nepal’s remote west and has led to the deaths of two teenage girls in the past year.
Last month, a 19-year-old girl in Dailekh district died from a snake bite after she was forced to sleep in a shed. In December, Roshani Tiruwa, 15, suffocated in a poorly ventilated mud-and-stone hut in Achham district after lighting a fire in an effort to stay warm.
Under the law, introduced as part of a bill aimed at improving the safety of women in Nepal, anyone enforcing the custom will face a three-month jail sentence and a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees (about £23).
Laws have also been passed against acid attacks and the ancient Hindu custom of demanding a dowry payment for marriage.
To allow the authorities time to foster awareness before the crackdown is enforced, the ban on Chhaupadi will not be introduced immediately. “For the next year we will conduct social campaigns to tell the people about this new law,” said Krishna Bhakta Pokharel, who headed the parliamentary panel that finalised the bill.
Campaigners have welcomed the legislation, but are calling for education programmes to change behaviour and attitudes.
WaterAid said the law must be complemented by menstrual hygiene education and other awareness-raising activities. Tom Palakudiyil, the charity’s south Asia director, said: “The new law is a positive step and shows a real commitment to bringing an end to this ancient practice, which has such a detrimental impact on the lives of women and girls.
“However making Chhaupadi a criminal act on its own may not be enough to prevent women and girls being banished during their menstruation.
“The tradition is deeply entrenched in the culture of many communities, so we need to understand and address the root cause to bring about sustainable change.”
Adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities should be prioritised to ensure all women and girls can safely manage their periods with privacy and dignity, said WaterAid.
Some communities believe natural disasters or other misfortunes will befall them if women are not isolated during their periods.
The monthly exile, during which menstruating women and those who have just given birth are denied milk and given less to eat, leaves them at risk of rape and vulnerable to attacks by wild animals and extreme cold.
Activists said the authorities must remain serious about enforcing the law when it is introduced in August 2018.
“Community and women’s rights campaigners must remain vigilant and report any case of Chhaupadi,” said Renu Rajbhandari, head of the National Alliance for Women’s Human Rights Defenders. “Such vigilance will force the government to strictly enforce the law.”
Apsara Neupane, deputy mayor of Chandannath municipality in western Nepal, emphasised that changing attitudes would be a challenge. “Having a strong law is important, but reforming social customs may take more time,” she said.
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