The recent tragedy that struck Nepal is the death of a mother and her two sons in a chhaupadi hut in Nepal. And yet again, it brought the issue of this exclusionary practice to the forefront of international human rights and media attention. Despite it being an illegal act, chhaupadi, the practice of confining menstruating women and girls from their home, often to a cow shed is surprisingly still practiced in some areas of Western Nepal. Chhaupadi is that quintessential example of the stigmas and restrictions associated with menstruation that exist not only in Nepal but all around the world.
The picture of menstruating women and girls being driven to be confined to a cowshed dominates media coverage in Nepal. Chhaupadi not only gets limited to the physical act of sleeping in a shed rather it goes beyond this to include a deeply rooted and stubborn cultural beliefs about an unholy body, which sees women and girls as inferior and lead girls to adopt these obnoxious feelings. Girls are repeatedly told that they are impure from a tender age, which can have a devastating effect on their psyche and sense of self-worth.
Such complex problems require complex solutions. Menstruation is often tagged as a “health and hygiene” issue, but a pack of activists is needed to bring about a long-term change. The media has got a crucial role to play in raising awareness, too, but they must not sensationalize the issue, and to also give an ear to and report the voices of the activists and change-makers in the community.
Only when we put forward the voices of women and girls at the center of research, policies, and interventions, can we truly interpret the nuanced nature of the deeply rooted practice of chhaupadi.
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