They are also forbidden from touching other people, cattle, plants, fruits, and vegetables.
In 2019, a 17-year-old girl in Nepal was found dead after suffocating from smoke inhalation. Her room caught fire while she was sleeping inside a “menstruation hut” on a freezing January night.
Parwati Bogati had to stay inside one of these huts because she was on her monthly period, following a practice called “Chhaupadi” in which women are not allowed to participate in everyday activities while she’s bleeding. It’s a centuries-old practice in Nepal in which women and girls are considered unclean during that time of the month.
The teenager had lit a fire to keep warm on her night alone in cold Himalayan winter. The next morning, her mother-in-law found her lifeless body.
According to district police inspector Sundar Bam from Purbichauki village in western Nepal’s Doti district, Parwati had “lit a fire on the floor as it was bitterly cold that night due to lower temperatures and rain.”
“The blanket was charred. It appears the blanket had caught fire while she was asleep filling the room with smoke, and since the window and door were both shut, we think she died because of smoke inhalation.”
Chhaupadi has become illegal in Nepal, but still a lot of people practice it. The University of Bath and the Centre for Research on Environment, Health, and Population Activities (CREHPA) in Nepal released findings on a study in 2019, in which 400 adolescent girls in villages in midwestern Nepal were surveyed. Focus groups were also done.
Results shows that “60% of the girls knew chhaupadi was illegal, yet 77% practiced it.” The researchers discovered that that practice was still widely accepted in the area, even among people with high education levels.
Parwati was at least the fourth victim of the practice who have died in 2019. Chhaupadi was criminalized in 2017 and the practice “has been largely eradicated” in Doti district, according to Sundar. But Parwati’s death shows that the custom is still in practice and that “women and girls are still being isolated because of a normal bodily function and the stigma surrounding menstruation remains deadly.’
Nepali writer and menstrual rights activist Radha Paudel said that “Earlier (women) were confined in a separate hut, but now that a lot of them have been demolished, they are finding different places in the house to be isolated. The segregation continues. They still cannot participate in household activities during the menstruation.”
They are not just isolated in huts. These females are also forbidden from touching other people, cattle, plants, fruits, and vegetables, says a 2011 United Nations report.
Jennifer Thompson, an author in a study published in the journal Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, said that the practice was usually enforced by “elders within their family and community, including mothers, grandmothers, and other senior women.”
She added that girls who do not have access to a chhau hut, she can be made to sleep outside exposed to the elements.
Community organizers and non-governmental organizations are doing efforts to solve the stigma associated with menstruation in Nepal. In December 2019, police arrested the brother-in-law of a woman who died in the same manner as Parwati did. He was reported to have banished her to a menstrual hut, also in the same manner that Parwati was.
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