The practice of forcing women and girls into seclusion during menstruation is perhaps the worst form of harmful traditional practice prevalent in parts of western Nepal. This is inhuman and cruel for menstruation period is when girls and women need to maintain proper hygiene and when they should be provided nutritious food, not sending them to live under sheds and huts away from family care. But this is precisely what we have been doing in many parts of the country. Menstruation is still considered a taboo even in the urban households and menstruating girls and women are thought of as impure. Over the years a lot of awareness has been raised and a lot has been talked about regarding how this system of Chhaupadi—as seclusion in western parts of the country is referred to—can be eliminated. Perhaps the most telling answer with strong message was delivered by a group of women in Achham district early this month.
Women united and started demolishing all the menstrual huts. This is the example of how even the deep-seated beliefs against women—wrongly justified in the name of religion and tradition in most of the cases—can be changed when women themselves take the matters in their hands. Chhaupadi system has already cost precious lives in western districts. In Accham, for example, three women including 14 years old girl lost their lives in Chhaupadi sheds in one year. The data of Women and Children Office based in the district shows that a total of 12 women lost their lives in such sheds in the last one decade. Something had to be done against this deplorable system. We have taken a step forward in abolishing this practice legally. The law passed by the parliament in August last year has criminalized Chhaupadi system. Those who practice Chhaupadi will be jailed, as per the new law. Besides they will also be deprived of services provided by the ward and rural municipality offices.
This seems to have been a crucial factor behind the change in Accham, where women have realized that they must not be banished from home during menstruation. The psychological and physical violence—some women would even be raped while inside the huts—this inflicted on women is indescribable. Wave of change has started from Accham. Now the focus of government has to be on making the women themselves active and ensure that the state will protect them if they are put in harm’s way for speaking up against ill practices. The women of Accham deserve appreciation and support. This message needs to be reinforced across all the districts in western region. This form of resistance against harmful traditional practices should be the norm, rather than exception, for every other place where practices, such as witchcraft violence, child marriage, honor killing and many others, thrive in the name of religion, culture and tradition. Women in Accham have shown how it can be done.