Nepalese Teenager Dies After Being Banished To Outlawed 'Menstruation Hut'
The Debrief: Despite the custom being outlawed over a decade ago, in remote communities in Nepal, women are still being forced into exclusion in 'menstruation huts'. An 18-year-old has died in one of these huts.
For many women worldwide, there is still a huge taboo around periods. An 18-year-old girl has tragically died in the western Dailekh district of Nepal, after being banished to a ‘menstruation hut’. In the hut, she was bitten twice by a poisonous snake on her head and leg before battling the venom for 7 hours. Activists argue that although it was the snake bites which poisoned her, her underlying killer was the government’s inability to counter the archaic ‘Chhaupadi’ practice.
So why was Tulasi Shahi forced to stay in an animal shed for being on her period? The ancient Hindu custom ‘Chhaupadi’ is based on taboos surrounding menstruation. When women are on their period, they are thought to be ‘impure’ and so are forbidden from taking part in normal family activities or interacting with men. The remote Nepalese communities where the custom is common, hold the belief that bad luck will befall them in the form of natural disasters, animal deaths and disease if they do perform this exclusion. The conditions in the huts are pretty unpleasant, to say the least – they are often windowless and cramped, with poor sanitation and ventilation. On top of the psychological toll of isolation, the women are also given less food during their time in solitary confinement.
Despite the ‘Chhaupadi’ practice being officially outlawed by Nepal’s Supreme Court over a decade ago in 2005, activists say this ruling hasn’t made a difference on the ground. Menstrual rights activist Radha Paudel has said of the situation “Our girls and women are dying and the state is turning a blind eye” . Sadly, Shahi’s death is not an isolated case but part of a chain – two women perished at the end of 2016 in incidents linked to the menstruation hut practice. One of these victims was a 15-year-old girl, who died from breathing in smoke after she lit a fire for warmth in the shed. The evident government failure to enforce the ban is reflected in the stats. A recent study has revealed there were over 500 menstruation huts in this Dailekh district where Shahi died. The actual number is expected to be even higher, as communities now often use dark corners of the house for the purpose instead of individual huts.
Although this is a tragic situation, enforcing the law against ‘menstruation huts’ and reducing the stigma around menstruation in order to protect girls’ lives in the future is easier said than done. It would mean forcing communities to stop practising customs which are deeply engrained in their culture.
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