“Too Impure to Touch”

Raising awareness for access to sanitation and hygiene services, this World Toilet Day 2018!

A girl sits inside a Chhaupadi. Image by CNN.
What do you do when you’re sent to live in a small hut outside your house for two-three months a year?

Chhaupadi’ is one such tradition in Nepal where menstruating women are excluded from their community. Women and young girls are confined to a cattle-home or makeshift hut (chhaupadi) that lacks ventilation, resources, and sanitation.

Examples of the huts (chhaupadi) women are sent to live in. Image from Nepali Sansar.

During their menstrual cycle that lasts anywhere between 5–11 days, women and girls are not allowed to indulge in any activity related to their home or community. This includes touching their household items, touching men, cattle or crops and mainly books as menstruating persons are considered ‘impure’.

Speaking to Nepali Sansar, some girls described their personal experience with the tradition:

“My first time was in winter. It was so cold that I had to light a fire to warm myself, but the smoke was so thick and the window so small that I could hardly breathe. So I had to put it out.”
“Our goth was far away from our home, so the first time I shed blood, a group of boys tried to rape me. Fortunately, a man came to help me and scared them away.”
“If a woman goes inside the family’s home during her period, three things will happen. “A tiger will come; the house will catch on fire; and the head of the house will get sick.”

Laws regarding the practice have been in place since 2005, but with little or no conviction from the community. With little to no changes for halting the practice, the law crumbled and women in rural and western regions of Nepal practiced it. In 2017, Nepal’s Supreme Court passed a new law that punished people forcing women to the practice by enforcing the perpetrators to three months imprisonment with/or a NPR 3,000 ($30) fine. Finally, on August 17, 2018, Nepal introduced a new civil and criminal code that completely banned the practice of ‘Chhaupadi’ and considered it a criminal offense.

This June, an 18-year-old girl died of a snakebite while she was sleeping in a hut outside her house in Achham district during her banishment. So far 13 girls have died in the past 12 years during their banishment in the same district.

Though the laws have been passed, there is no guarantee that it will be implemented. Moreover, with little access to safe hygiene services in these ‘huts’, these women are at-risk to face health and safety concerns.

The tradition of ‘chhaupadi’ signifies the violence of abuse against women and highlights the consequences faced by those who practice it.

“In order for women and girls to live healthy, productive and dignified lives, it is essential that they are able to manage menstrual bleeding effectively. This requires access to appropriate water, sanitation, and hygiene services” (Wash Matters).

Therefore, this World Toilet Day we at Women’s March Global, call upon to raise awareness for the lack of sanitation resources and to halt traditions like ‘chhaupadi’ that restrict women’s rights.

Follow Women’s March Global on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Mediumfor more updates regarding our campaigns!

Tenzin Kyisarh is the Communications Manager for Women’s March Global.