Published On: August 16, 2017 12:25 PM NPT By: Sonam Lama

New Law assures abolition of menstrual taboo

The banishment of bleeding women and girls to cattle shed or makeshift hut best defines the custom of Chaupadi. The practice is extensively followed in the Far west region of the country as women and girls on period are considered impure. The new law that criminalizes Chaupadi, which will come into effect in a year’s time, stipulates a three-month jail sentence or a Rs 3,000 fine, or both, for anyone forcing a woman to follow the custom.

While many applauded the recent criminalization of Chaupadi system as progressive, the law was well-received across the country with feminists and human rights activists hoping that it will change the status of women and the way they are treated in the rural areas. However, if one is to delve deeper into the implementation aspect, it is most likely that sustainable change can be achieved only through a prolonged hardship. 

My City’s Shuvechchha Ghimire and Mushkaan Jain talked to seven individuals about the law. Following are the edited excerpts of what had to say.

Shusma Limbu
Retired worker and now a housewife

I grew up in the eastern part of Nepal. My family did not enforce any illogical restrictions in regards to my menstruation. In fact I was shocked when I first heard that a woman in the Far West is considered untouchable and made to stay out of the house during her menstruation or post-natal state. Menstruation is not necessarily easy for all girls. In fact, it is the time when girls need most care. Hence, this initiative is very much welcome as it will protect the rights of women for a safe residence during their monthly cycle. That said, we can observe a huge gap between law-makers and law-enforcing bodies, in that the latter have not been very effective in making sure the provisions are effectively implemented. 

Sushma Gurung
Identifies as a feminist

Some claim that Chaupadi is done so that a menstruating woman doesn’t have to carry out the household works while some say that they’re not supposed to touch anything god-related, food items, or even her own family members. And these practices will not change suddenly. So the government must understand that it will take some time for people to take the law seriously. If people in the rural areas are taught with patience about the complications women go through during their periods, I think they will understand.

Ankit Koirala
Assistant professor at Agriculture and Forestry University

While a strong legal system derives stability in any country, culture and norms play bigger role in general day-to-day lifestyle. Chaupadi system is ingrained deep into the system of the Far West. Laws that criminalize the tradition, hence, might come off as imposing to its citizens. Almost like an unwelcome external intervention, the law will probably remain unimplemented. Making criminals out of people, especially when they are following a long-held custom, doesn’t really address the gravity of the issue. Chances are, offences and unfortunate incidents in a cow shed might now go unreported for the fear of legal repercussions. Grooming people with fear doesn’t eradicate the problem in the long term, which is what government should focus on at the moment. 

Nabin Baral
Documentary photographer based in Kathmandu

I live with women who have achieved high academic proficiencies. One of them specializes in gender studies. However, despite their proficiencies, they practice ‘staying away from men and kitchen’ during their menstruation. I have made countless attempts to change their stance regarding menstruation, but every time I get muted in the name of ‘dharma’ and ‘paap’. This has taught me to believe that not only men, but even women are the protectors of cultures like Chaupadi. It is not only the parents and elderly that impose such rituals; it is oftentimes the girls and women themselves. If you think about it, members of the parliament who voted for the law might still be practicing untouchability within their closed doors. 

Adhiss Pokharel
Captain of Nepal Army

We need to realize that people are taught to identify, practice and preserve traditions like Chaupadi from early childhood. These lessons are ingrained into their sub-conscious, which is why they feel like they are doing ‘punya’ by avoiding, or making girls avoid, communal places during menstruation. To attack on their version of earning ‘punya’ is like attacking their faith, which might result in a serious backlash. Also, there is a difference between a crime and an offence. When the government declares any social act a crime, instead of categorizing it as an offence, space for improvement often is lost. People now will feel the need to hide from law-enforcing bodies. Not only that, it might further lead people in the Far West to undervalue the role of INGOs in initiating sustainable change.

Manjita Basnet
Salesperson at PZ’s Collection, Civil Mall

Shoddy thing to do: keeping girls barred behind restrictions and having them live in sheds in dirt. It is definitely a crime to make women do such a thing instead of providing her with the care she needs despite knowing how that could induce diseases and infection. The eradication of Chaupadi tradition might not happen in the blink of an eye, but with the joint efforts of the public, slowly and steadily. If today’s generation are to learn how menstruation works and are unanimous about eradicating this practice, we can visit the rural areas and convince them to implement this rule properly. 

Rujita Shrestha
Student and advocate of women rights

Females need physical as well an emotional care and support during menstruation. But they are isolated and asked to live outside under extreme conditions, merely suppressed by beliefs and the credence for religion. The government must use its power in implementing the law after the declaration and find ways to completely eradicate this custom. It should organize seminars and awareness programs to inform the general public about the phenomenon of menstruation and how it affects a woman’s body. Only then, the public can help the government in implementing the law. Also, there must be a committee in each village that files such crime.

law, abolition, menstrual, taboo,

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