In the Himalayan villages of Bajura, most of the women still live in cowsheds as the chhaupadi system continues.
Bannigadhi Jayagadh rural municipality of Achham has been declared free of chhaupadi as the government has already criminalised the system of keeping women outside the house during their periods. Yet, the women here are still forced to stay in the sheds during their menstruation.
However, in Chaurpati rural municipality of the district, when the local administration demolished the cowsheds in the area, people living in separate rooms within their houses increased. But in this scenario, the menstruating woman enters the room through the window, not through the main door.
Despite the declaration, the women in the area are still expected to stay separate or in the sheds whereas many are rebuilding the sheds. So, the declaration has been limited to mere words.
However, here is a beam of hope as newly elected female leaders at the local level say they have plans to deal with the problem.
New leaders with new plans
Bindu Rawal, the vice-chairperson of Bannigadhi Jayagadh rural municipality, sees it as a challenge to implement the declaration there. Realising the difficulty, she says she has started making plans focusing on making arrangements for women to stay in a safe place instead while working on implementing the declaration that ensures their safety.
Speaking about her plans, she informs that she is preparing to conduct a public awareness programme against chhaupadi, to provide information about laws, policies and rules to eradicate the system and to increase surveillance through local female groups at the ward level.
According to Sardevi Khadka, the newly elected vice-chairperson of Chaurpati rural municipality, some have started building spaces for women in a safe and well-organised manner, but one that is far away from the house. Whereas some who used to sleep in the huts during menstruation have started living in a separate room at home.
“People are now more aware than ever before,” she adds, stating that they are soon starting awareness campaigns.
Rajkala Sarki, the vice-chairperson of the Himali rural municipality, says that the evil practice of chhaupadi has had a deep root in the village for years. “There is a misconception that if a woman stays in the house, the gods and goddesses get angry and the cows do not give milk,” she says.
“To date, we have not started demolishing the cowsheds in the area. We will now start doing it in an integrated manner,” she pledges.
Nanda Thapa, the deputy mayor of Bajura’s Badimalika municipality, aims to eradicate evil practices by first starting to make the municipality free of chhaugoths, the sheds for menstruating women, in four wards. “There are some settlements that pose a challenge. But, in our municipality, the locals have become more aware of the chhaupadi system than in the past.”
She adds, “Now, women are sleeping in their bedrooms even while menstruating like in other days.”
Dhana Dhami, the newly elected vice-chairperson of Sigas rural municipality of Baitadi, says there is no practice of living in the sheds anywhere in the municipality, but there is a practice where menstruating women do not use the road leading to the temples, believing that the gods and goddesses will get angry.
It means there are still many challenges towards its eradication.
“It is not customary here for women to stay in the huts during menstruation. They stay in their house. If there is no separate room, they stay on the ground floor.“ Dhami assures the municipality is committed to working and addressing these minor issues.
Dadeldhura, Doti, Darchula, Baitadi and other districts have comparatively less intense chhaupadi practice in comparison to Achham, Bajura and Bajhang, but the practice is still there. Even if they do not isolate themselves in chhaugoths, it is customary for them to stay separate during their menstruation period. Likewise, they do not consume curd or milk either.
In any case, it is wrong to stay or live in a hut. The representatives hence need to take the goal of launching a campaign to remove sheds not just from the village but also from the heart through public awareness programmes with the support of government and non-government bodies.
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.