Chhaupadi in Nepal: Can the first female President abolish the bleeding shame?

Radhika Sunar, 14, stands in front of her “chaupadi goth,” the small hut that she and other women live in during their menstruation periods, in Siddheshwar, a village in the far western region of Achham, Nepal, November 29, 2012. (photo copyright Allison Shelley)

Recently, yet another utterly unfortunate Chhaupadi related death happened in Dailekh district of Nepal, after getting bitten by a poisonous snake during chhau last week, where this ugly tradition continues taking lives of women and girls, despite Chaupadi was banned by the Nepal government in 2005 as a human rights violation. A lot of people argue that ‘we have the law and it’s just a matter of implementing it.’ People look at Chhaupadi from a physical and intellectual point of view alone, so they talk about the ‘unsanitary, outdoors and unsafe cowsheds’ where the young girls and women have to live during their menstruation and the law that banned this practice. But Chhaupadi is not just a physical and intellectual problem which one addresses with sanitary, indoors and safe aspects of physicality and having a law against it, the intellectual aspect of this ugly tradition. As Chhaupadi is a tradition, a part of the culture, it is deeply an emotional aspect, more than just the physical and intellectual ones. Many parts of the world, including Nepal, have had such traditions since thousands of years, that repeatedly dis-empowers women and girls and successfully establishes male domination, the patriarchy. We used to have Sati-Pratha(women were forced to burn themselves alive along with the husband’s dead body at the cremation), we still have Kannya-dan (giving a virgin away to the groom during the marriage ceremony), Dauri (it is not just a donation of cash and expensive assets during the marriage, rather thanking the groom’s family for letting off and taking away their burden of having a girl in a family) and Chhaupadi in is another similar tradition that reinforces the patriarchy. Many traditional practices of discriminating ‘others’, whether its cast-based or gender-based or sexual-orientation based, have been established through, not just ‘brain-washing’ but more through ‘emotional-washing’, which leads to a deeply rooted belief in oneself, the traditions and the established hierarchy. Such ‘Emotional-washing’ allows such ugly superstitions as Chhaupadi.

Let’s look at the three aspects of the Chhaupadi problem:

1) Physical aspect: Girls and women are forced to spend time during the menstruation at unsanitary, outdoor, unsafe cowsheds.

2) Intellectual aspect: Girls and women are taught, from their childhood, that they become polluted during this menstruation period, hence they better-off retreating away from daily normal life.

3) Emotional aspect: It is not just the families and communities but the girls and women themselves also believe that they actually become polluted during this menstruation period and they believe that it is good for themselves and to their families to live like that: unsanitary, outdoor, unsafe cowsheds during menstruation.

So without tackling the emotional aspect, the belief, of this Chhaupadi-tradition problem, only addressing physical and intellectual aspect won’t make much difference.

Nepal government, the UN, the NGOs can try and provide sanitary pads, asks the men and families to let them stay indoors; the law, which is already in place since 2005, can outlaw the practice legally; but the practices still continuing and girls and women still getting ‘murdered’ by this tradition. This is because the belief has not changed. It is far too ambitious to believe that law, awareness, and distribution of sanitary pad can change such a long old tradition. To change the belief you need to do something radical, crazy and just opposite of the tradition, along with the legal change, awareness, and distribution of sanitary pad etc.

Hon President, (and all the women leaders of Nepal) you may think the proposition I am making is crazy, radical and against the norm, but I want to you to consider exactly to do that so that you can contribute to demystifying the belief around Chhaupadi.

1) As you are not just a president (the head of state), you are also a women president; similarly, you are not a just president for the atheists and communists you are president of believers. Next time you have menstruation, please make it public and visit all the holy temples, shrines, etc. and I ask other women leaders to do the same. Because this will not only help people to believe that the menstruation is not a pollution but it is the integral part and the core source of human creation, which is holy and must to be celebrated.

2) Cook a feast during you next menstruation and feed others and feed yourself, to establish it as a celebratory event for every woman and girls life.

3) Ask the government to include “not just why Chhaupadi practice is bad but why menstruation is good and natural process” into the school curricula’s across Nepal.

4) You are not just president of Kathmandu; you are president of the whole country. Please visit districts like Achham and talk to the girls, women, children, men about the importance of menstruation, establish a tradition of celebrating menstruation. Celebrate menstruation with them. Establish this culture of celebration there in such districts.

5) Many women and girls may still be not connected to the internet and social media, but its use is increasing far and wide day- by-day. I ask all the women and girls, who are in social media, do a campaign, announce your menstruation and celebrate it. I believe menstruation is a very intimate and private affair of women and girls, but when the same ‘very intimate and private affairs’ become the most disempowering cultural repeated events every month of your life, it’s worth to change this ‘private and intimate yet disempowering event’ into ‘public, celebratory and empowering event’ for all women and girls.

To really change the belief, culture, and tradition you need to do something revolutionary, radical and against the norm. Most importantly, revolution can also happen with the flowers, worship, and celebration; it does not need guns, fight, and violence.

All the women and girls in the world, particularly from Achham, Dailekh, Bajura, Humal Jumla districts of Nepal, you are blessed with the natural cycle of menstruation. Don’t feel low about it, rather celebrate this natural phenomenon.

Thank you and Namaste!