Bad blood continues

Jun 13, 2018-

Parbati Buda, an 18-year-old girl from Turmakhad VDC in Achham, died after being bitten by a snake while sleeping in a Chhau Goth, or menstrual hut, a few days back. Earlier in January, Gauri Budha, a twenty-two year old girl, was found dead in a Chhaupadi hut in the same VDC. Chhaupadi, the archaic practice of banishing women from their home to live in outhouses during their menstruation and childbirth, is a social ill that has cost many young girls and women their lives. Such practices emanate from a deeply traditional and patriarchal society that stigmatises women as “impure” when they bleed as part of their natural physiological cycle.

Chhaupadi confines women to small, dark spaces without nutritious food or adequate protection while they need them the most. Pushed out of their homes for days and living in isolation, these women become vulnerable to attacks from animals, sexual assaults, and various kinds of infections. The practice continues to result in avoidable deaths. Of the five deaths reported in recent months, two were due to hypothermia and three from snakebites.

Following a sustained public outrage over the social malpractice—not least widely reported in the media—the Supreme Court, in 2005, declared Chhaupadi illegal. In 2008, the Chhaupadi Pratha Elimination Directive was issued to identify the scale of such practices and to come up with a solution to do away with Chhaupadi in the remote western hills of Province 7. Last year, the strongest step yet was taken against Chhaupadi as a law was enacted that criminalised the century-old practice. The new law is pegged to come into effect this August, according to which a three-month jail sentence or a Rs3,000 fine, or both, will be slapped on anyone who forces women to observe Chhaupadi.

31VDCs in Achham have been declared Chhaupadi free areas but the practice of ostracising women during their monthly cycle still persists. Reports indicate that more than 90 percent of women from remote western mountain districts of Achham, Bajura, Doti and Bajhang practise Chhaupadi—either due to societal pressure or according to their own wish. Although some NGOs and activists have brought about some changes through education and advocacy programmes, it is obvious that they are not enough.

The practice of Chhaupadi strips women of their basic rights. Since it is a long-standing practice, its eradication requires questioning cultural traditions and beliefs that perpetuate the subjugation of women and their bodies. Removing the stigma associated with menstruation requires behaviourial changes too. Local politicians and local parties too can play a role in creating awareness at the local level regarding the harms of Chhaupadi and perhaps be more vocal about such issues.

Most practices in societies are social constructs and norms that become exceptions with time. While it may take a while to get rid of Chhaupadi too, with necessary laws in place, and persistent effort, this social malpractice deserves to be resigned to history.

Published: 13-06-2018 07:32

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