11 Sep Chhaupadi – banished to the cowshed
The practice of banishing menstruating women to a cowshed or small mud hut
Imagine, once a month, being turned out of the family home and sent to live in a dilapidated shed for five days. In the summer it is ferociously hot and you risk heat stroke, while in the winter it is desperately cold. You cannot wash yourself or your clothes, you cannot get clean drinking water, and what food you have is far from nutritious – no meat, fruit, or dairy products. You may be at risk of attacks from wild animals or even rape. This is chhaupadi, the practice of banishing menstruating women to a cowshed or small mud hut.
Chhaupadi has its roots in extreme poverty. Women with a single sari could not afford to replace a stained one. Instead, they would wear a simple wrap around skirt, while menstruating. There is also a superstitious side to chhaupadi. Women have been taught that if they stay at home, they will make the gods angry. They are not allowed to touch their male relatives or take part in family events. In some places it is believed that the touch of a menstruating woman could kill cattle and cause crops to fail.
Chhaupadi is rife across many districts in western Nepal. It also affects women giving birth, so it is unsurprising that maternal and neonatal death rates are higher in districts where chhaupadi is practised. The dirty environment can lead to all kinds of infections, and some women suffer from mental health conditions such as depression.
In 2017 chhaupadi was criminalised, but education is more effective. INF staff are using Self Help Groups to educate communities about health and sanitation. This allows conversation about the practice of chhaupadi. As a result, women in some of INF’s projects are no longer viewed as cursed, or excluded from their families.