Missing the link: Demolish and Re-building sheds for Menstruation

Missing the link: Demolish and Re-building sheds for Menstruation

by Radha Paudel
This photo from Achham, by Deuma Bhat
New style of shed, at Achham, by Deuma Bhat

Demolish of Menstrual Sheds:
The term of Chhaupadi is started to occupy in development discourse specially in health along with the pilot projects on Safe Motherhood about two decades before. Unfortunately, it is only confined with childbirth, safe mother and safe new born baby but not connected with menstruation at all. During a peak timing of Maoist Insurgency, Chhaupadi considered a harmful practice so they imposed either demolish sheds or stop to follow it in their pocket areas. Villagers tried to follow them due to fear where Maoist representatives dense.   
For a decade followed by Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), the Open Defecation Free (ODF) is introduced in government along with many other actors and working so hard. The villages and districts are contested to declare ODF among themselves. ODF actors endorsed menstrual hygiene celebration since 2014, when UN, Human Right Council (2014) declared that the menstrual restrictions is key barrier for gender equality. In line with international progress, the news popped up around demolish and declaration of Chhaupadi specially in west Nepal e.g. the 31 villages has declared Chhaupadi free community till November 2016.
Re-Practicing and Re-building
A faith healer, participant of my training in Jumla 2014, stood up and challenged by sharing a story; ‘I understand all why were you saying but it is not possible, my neighbour was underground during Maoist insurgency, he demolished his shed and forced to demolish of many of us. Just, few weeks before, he has done a worship for purifying all badness, guilty, contamination due to menstruation and started the Chhaupadi practice. If you do not trust, let’s make visit.’
In December 2016, a 15 years girl found dead inside the shed due to suffocation at Gagra Village, Achham which is one of the Chhaupadi free community already. About a three weeks later, another 21 years mother found dead again due to same reason.
The women are using demolished sheds and rebuilding during menstruation in Lagam village, Surkhet reported in July 12, 2017 whereas this village declared as Chhaupadi free community in April 2014. The condition is same in Achham and other many districts in west Nepal.
In Dailekh, within a month (June-July, 2017), Lainchaur village lost two girls (Tulasha Shai, 19 years and 14 years Lalsara BK) due to snake bite in shed during menstruation.  Their family and neighbours still saying, ” We will continue the Chhaupadi practice, do not care for life because we do care god. I prepared food during my period but my neck got stiff then recovered from DhamiJhakri.”
Reason behind Re_Practing and Re_Building Sheds for Menstruation:
The key reason behind re-practicing and re-building the menstrual sheds or huts or segregation is ignorance that is fuelled by tradition or religion. Centuries before, when people segregated girls and women it could be the reason of not having any knowledge on menstruation, no skills and materials for managing blood. There only one hope was god and religion was only one tool to construct the society. But, today, we are living in global village even the most remote villages at least observe mobile, tested noodles, address mom and dad for their parents. It means narrowing and open every day.
However, no one tell them about the physiology of menstruation, deconstruct the myths, rumours and mal-practices around menstruation. There are more than forty types myths, rumours, false believe and perceptions regarding to menstrual blood, women, her materials. No one re-assess the articles of books such as Manusmirti, Chanakyaniti, Garunpuran, Rishipanchami which are written thousands of years before by patriarchal men. In other hand, there is no specific policy yet in place. The Chhaupadi guideline (2008) is not allowing to punish anyone.
The informal learning is so strong than formal education. Usually a person started to observe and download the information form their parents and surroundings since childhood. Many of us amazed and puzzled by seeing our surroundings and existence and some of us considered as constructed by god or supernatural power or nature. Those who strongly believe on religion or god, they have very hard to demolish sheds and abolish all forms of restrictions. Because the menstruation is heavily overlooked everywhere, no one like to initiate dialogue. More importantly, the Nepali society is very close specially for women. Even the government representatives and NGO workers who are in frontline for menstrual rights neither they have adequate knowledge and skills, nor confidence. The school teacher, health worker, priest, faith healers, NGO workers, political leaders all are practicing at the name of culture or religion or god. They possess the most power in the community so villagers who do not practice at their private life e.g. Limbu or anyone should follow restrictions during menstruation just for a prestige and solidarity. In this scenario, re-practicing and re-building sheds is not new at all. It is all ignorance as well as means for suppression, depression, domination, oppression of people rather liberates and empowers for their sake.
No Need to Demolish sheds:
In my experience, the acceptance and application of knowledge and skills is more faster among never school going people than educated people (de-learning is always challenging). Once the villagers understand themselves, their bodily and civic rights, human rights, gender, only two options would have with villagers through the participatory exercises. They are; living as like cattle or human being. More importantly, I love to share food, bed, at their respective village. An individual usually transforms at his/her personal level after at least four hours discussion. But it is challenging to transform family and community because that person does not have confident to challenge with parents, grandparents and others due to power structure as well as knowledge. Thus, we need at least three follow up sessions to expand the circle of transformation where six to eighteen months takes place to announce the Chhaupadi free community. This process bit time consuming, require thick skin and commitment but so powerful where villagers empowered and lead the process e.g. Rachuli, Kalikot. Here, we could transform Chhaupadi of an individual from her/his soul and heart not physically. I do not understand why do campaigners demolishing the sheds. There are many ways to use sheds such as store room, pilling of firewood or hay or anything in village.  Let’s respect the science and enjoy with nature with pride. Menstruation is just NOT women’s issue, it is everyone’s business because of human right.

NB: I have forwarded to Kathmandu post.

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