In Nepal, Tradition Is Killing Women
Radha Paudel is a menstrual rights activist and the founder of Actions Works Nepal, a nonprofit organization focused on women’s rights. She says the law is failing women not only because it’s not being implemented—like myriad other laws and policies in Nepal—but also because it fails to define the concept of chhaupadi properly.
She says the law neglects to take into the account the nuances of chhaupadi across different parts of Nepal and fails to address all the restrictions that come with the practice, which include a ban on bathing and restrictions on women’s diets. “The law speaks about the visible things only: the banishing of women to a shed outside,” she says.
Paudel doesn’t doubt that banishing women to sheds must urgently stop, but she believes the law neglects what is perceived as “less dangerous” forms of menstrual restrictions, which also fuel gender inequality, stigma, and discrimination.
“If I’m in Kathmandu, and I’m living in an apartment using the best quality sanitary products money can buy, but I cannot enter the kitchen to have food or water, and I have to sleep in a separate room to my husband, there’s deep level of isolation and discrimination,” she said.
“Because of that segregation and isolation, girls start to live with a deep feeling of inferiority and humiliation. No matter how much education she has, no matter a family’s economic status, she’s living with the feeling that she is less than a male.”
Ending chhaupadi must begin with enabling women to have “dignity” during their period, Paudel says, including access to sanitary products and bins to dispose of them at schools across the country. “Girls and women deserve dignity during menstruation, but there is a deep ignorance, even among the government and NGOs working on this. We live in a patriarchal society where women live only to think about their husbands and children.”