Chaupadi Ritual has been practicing for several centuries in Nepal
Families in rural areas of Nepal practice the ritual of chaupadi, isolating women and girls to a small shed when menstruating or after giving birth. This is done with the belief that these women contaminate their families, domestic animals and crops. Death, attacks, and disease are not uncommon experiences for women during their segregation. For this reason, some families and villages have ended or modified this custom.
The chaupadi ritual has been practiced for several centuries in the far and mid-western regions of Nepal. Up to 23% of the country’s population lives in these areas, with nearly half of the people living below the poverty line.
Chaupadi involves a cultural belief in the impurity of women during menstruation and ten days following childbirth. These women must therefore avoid touching anyone or anything that could be contaminated. To protect the family, home, animals and crops girls and women are isolated for several days at a time in a “goth” which refers to a small shed, hut or cave . During this time, women and girls are not allowed to cook for themselves and must build their own fires for warmth and light.
Durga Buda, a 31 year old woman, described her experiences of the “goth,” saying “who wants to be ostracised?…I was scared, cold and confused. But the fear of sin was bigger….Now I am used to it, but the fear of wild animals, snakes and drunkards is always there.”
The problem is that these “goths” are often small, isolated, unsanitary, unventilated and windowless, providing little if any protection. Under these conditions, Nepalese girls and women commonly become the victims of illness or injury. Women are raped, attacked by wild animals, bitten by snakes, contract dangerous disease, experience smoke inhalation, suffer from malnutrition, and cope with harsh living conditions.
“Women and children aren’t eating properly, and because it is cold inside the ‘goth’ they can become sick easily. In part because of this, we started to work with families and to convince them to let girls come inside the house. Of course it is difficult,” explained Namsar Vhandari, secretary for the Paralegal Committee, a local women-run advocacy organization.
In 2005, Nepal’s Supreme Court banned the practice of chaupadi. Despite this, many isolated rural areas of Nepal continue the ritual. Political parties in some districts have committed themselves to ending the practice and securing the health and safety of these women. Change has also occurred with many villages becoming “chaupadi-free zones” and anti-chaupadi campaigns spreading throughout villages that practice the ritual. Some women have found a new, safer way to practice this custom by building separate rooms attached to the main house for their periods of isolation.
“Some of us refused to follow the custom. We were able to convince a few families to change. But older women are strong believers of this system and want their daughters and daughters-in-laws to follow these customs. I say ‘look: My cows and chickens are fine, we still have a harvest, my body is normal’” explained Tulsi Devi, a volunteer with the Feminist Dalit Organization.
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