I’ve heard of it before, I’ve read about it in the reports, but it almost brought tears to my eyes to hear the young Hindu women share about the tradition of “Chaupadi” during my recent field visit to Nepal.
Imagine that you weren’t allowed to go inside your house for a whole week every month … and not allowed to shower during your menstruation! Sadly, some tribes in Nepal (including in Area Development Programs where World Vision is working) still follow this harmful traditional practice – in which young girls and women who are menstruating are considered ‘unclean’, and are forced to sleep outside with the animals in the goat or cow pen for a week. They are forbidden to bathe, enter the kitchen, touch water sources and other people, for fear of causing harm to others and upsetting the Hindu gods.
After discussion with a community group about this practice, a beautiful young mother proudly showed me where she takes herself to sleep with the goats – without a hint of resentment or shame. For her, it’s normal. For me, this was the heartbreaking thing: that women actually believe that they are “impure” and could bring a curse on the household if they remain indoors. There are very few men around in the communities I visited, because most have migrated to India in search of work and only visit home once or twice a year. Still, with their husbands away, the women take themselves outside into the ‘goathouse’ during menstruation! My heart broke listening to these beautiful women express their damaging self-image. I tried to explain how it’s a natural process and a ‘blessing’, as it’s a sign they are fertile and could have children. However, this didn’t seem to convince them.
Even though the local newspapers periodically report that females have died from suffocation in the goat shed as they light fires inside to keep warm; and even though the practice was banned by Nepal Supreme Court in 2005, “Chaupadi” continues as an ingrained custom/tradition in their culture (refer to https://www.statnews.com/2017/02/17/nepal-tradition-chaupadi-menstruation).
World Vision is doing great work to try and change these practices, particularly through Village Child Protection and Promotion Committees (VCPPCs). These committees volunteer their own time to conduct ‘mobile meetings’ in surrounding villages to spread awareness of the harmful effects of practices like Chaupaudi; early child marriage; child labour; domestic violence; alcoholism, and more. They proudly report that things are getting better: “women [who are menstruating] are only forced to stay outside with the animals each month for 3 days – instead of 7 days”.
One of the VCPPC members reflected, “when I was a student, I went through Chaupaudi, so would live in a cowshed and got scared when alone. What if a man comes and I get raped or get a snakebite? Health/hygiene was not well maintained, as we were not allowed to use the shower or touch water sources (not even in the temple or at a public tap). I couldn’t enter the house or kitchen because it was deemed unclear”. She later explained that at one time her teacher accidently touched her shoulder and she felt so bad that she had ‘cursed’ him because she was impure.
World Vision does great work working to support village committees like these to break down the social paradigms that contribute to these harmful cultural practices while respecting the culture.