Published On: July 31, 2022 02:30 PM NPT By: Manawi Shah

Perhaps the new generation can be free from menstrual taboos

Perhaps the new generation can be free from menstrual taboos

Menstruation still continues to be a taboo in Nepal, despite several ill practices being outlawed by the Supreme Court of Nepal in 2005. In spite of many protests, the ill practices for this moment still remain in the country, more extreme than in the West. Better known in Nepal as, ‘Chhaupadi’ (menstrual shed), this menstrual taboo has caused women and girls to be exposed to health risks, and disengage from family activities, and daily routines. If you may not be aware of the term ‘Chhaupadi’, it originated from the western parts of the country, sprouting through superstitions and myths. People from some Far-West districts believe that menstruation causes women to be impure temporarily.

There have been many bitter incidents caused by the practice of Chhaupadi, resulting in the death of many women. During the practice in Western areas of Nepal, young girls and women have to live in a so-called ‘menstrual hut’, and in some cases, a cowshed for the duration of their period. Radha Poudel, the founder and president of Action Works Nepal who underwent the practices of Chaupaddi said, "I ran away from home when I was 14 years old, I didn't want to suffer the way my mother and older sisters did." Undergoing these practices, even if it is temporary, women and young girls are stripped of health facilities and are forced to go through safety risks in their vulnerable times.  Mandira Shreshtha, health, child and girls activist, and nurse at Bir Hospital says "Various communities and religious denominations have coined taboos, attributing ‘evil powers' and associated shame and embarrassment to menstruation and menstrual blood." There is a lack of sanitation, and with the huts being poorly constructed, going through the weather and season change is also an issue. Women and young girls in society face health issues, and suffocation and are exposed to attacks from wild animals. Sneha Koirala, an 18-year-old girl from Kathmandu,  says "What makes people think humans should be treated this way? It angers me just thinking about it. I am grateful for the life that I have, but it's upsetting how women in different parts of the same country do not receive basic respect and dignity." 

According to a report of ActionAid, in recent years, two girls are known to have died as a result of this practice. One was a 19-year-old girl who died from a snakebite while sleeping alone in a shed in July 2017. Another was a 21-year-old girl who suffocated to death after lighting a fire to stay warm in her poorly ventilated hut, in February 2019. Koirala adds, "Society does anything to degrade women, and this is one of them." Doctor Aruna Karki, Gynecologist at Civil Service Hospital, says, "Women in rural areas are not aware of hygiene, don't drink enough water, and are limited to healthy eating due to the restrictions of the practice.” In addition to this, Yenuka Tamang, 17 who recently moved from the villages to the city, says, "I didn't know what a pad was until I came to Kathmandu. I used cloth before."   

Observing further research on this traditional ill practice, a study conducted by Biomedcentral aimed to assess socio-cultural perceptions of menstrual restrictions among urban Nepali women in the Kathmandu Valley. The study resulted in 72.1% of the target population practicing a range of menstrual restrictions, such as purifying their kitchen, household items, and beds once their period was complete on their fourth day. Koirala says, "I am aware of disapproval when I don't follow rules during my period, even if my parents shut that conversation down a long time ago. "The study showed that 45.4% saw their natural occurrence of menstruation as a ‘curse’. This study emphasizes the issues of these traditional practices on menstruation, displaying social discriminations and gender inequalities that women have to face. Feelings of humiliation, depression, and insecurities are exploited due to these practices. Anisha Mehta, a 17 years old girl from Kathmandu, says, "I think it's really corrupt that women are seen as disgusting or dirty with something that is a normal biological function that they can't control. It's absurd that we can't do daily tasks and are seen as impure and feel less of a human with something all women experience naturally." It also strips harmful thinking in regard to menstruation, observing it as a negative issue rather than a natural cause. Mehta adds, "I was told not to join my brother in playing sports because I was on my period, I didn't talk back because I didn't know any better and was new to it all, but now that I'm older I realized they were wrong." 

Dr Karki further states, "People in the cities are starting to get educated and understand the concepts of hygiene in menstruation,  especially the young adults.”

Women and this evolving society are slowly beginning to understand and are getting educated on the taboos of menstruation and how changes should be made. Poudel says, "There have been certain progress in policy from government at the provincial as well as local level, but there is a still long way to go for complete ‘dignified menstruation.'” Mehta suggests, "We can make changes by just talking about it in a more positive and open-minded way, such as having conversations and raising awareness. Even small things such as holding pads or exchanging pads when needed without making an effort to hide them can make it less taboo and lift the stigma." Even if this generation cannot be completely changed, perhaps the next may be. Shrestha suggests, "Spreading awareness can't always be enough, people are aware but not awakened. We need to orient people on the real existence of such traditions, and how their thoughts can be misleading the cultures." Koirala adds, "As a society, we should stop treating periods as a hush-hush topic. We should make women, non-binary people, and trans-men feel comfortable instead of ashamed." Doctors are doing what they can, and educated females are expanding the hygiene of menstruation, along with how it is a natural cause and not a taboo. Perhaps our generation today will be able to understand that menstruation is a natural cause and pass on this information without it being taboo, influencing our new generation that periods are natural, and nothing to be ashamed of. 


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