Menstrual Hygiene Day: Fighting Discriminating Chhaupadi Practices with Music
Updated: Feb 3, 2022
Gender based discrimination, and specifically menstruation-based discrimination is one of the major problems for women in Nepal. It can be observed all over the country. In the Far-Western provinces of Nepal, this discrimination is called “Chhaupadi”, and it is being practised in its most severe form in Karnali and Sudurpaschim. This means that in many areas, women are made to sleep outside their home in separate sheds (Chhau goth) or with cattle during their period. These sheds, generally known as goths, are usually some 20–25 meters away from their own residential homes and are sized around 1×2 m. Such sheds often lack doors and windows, are very narrow, dark, and congested, and have cold dirty floors where women sit and sleep. Hygienic conditions in the sheds are deplorable, women do not bath during periods and due to poverty and lack of knowledge, usually they do not have clean sanitary pads or cloths in use.
Chhaupadi denies women the right to touch water taps and use toilets in the fear of polluting the water source. Menstruating women are not allowed to touch other people or eat curd, milk, fruits, and other nutritious foods as people fear that they might pollute and bring bad luck to people, animals or plants. Chhaupadi also excludes women from the society as they are not allowed to participate in social life, attend meetings or go to school during the periods.
One additional aspect is open defecation. Most of the working districts of the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP) have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). However, menstruating women are not allowed to use the toilet and are thus compelled to go outside for defecation far away from the house. Open defecation has resulted in water contamination and higher risk of water borne diseases, sexual harassment or rape and fear of snake bites and wild animals. There are many cases of deaths while staying in Chhau huts, even in RVWRMP working districts.
RVWRMP is working hard to fight these harmful practices. Major means of interventions include triggering jingles, songs, radio programmes and social campaigns against Chhaupadi.
Recently, RVWRMP has produced a song named "Chhaupadi Ka Bedana" in the local Deuda rhythm, which will be broadcasted in radio stations in the project districts. The song reflects the realities of menstruating women and girls. By showing the pain caused by discriminating practises, the song aims to make the target audiences realize the harmfulness of the practices.
Suffering of Menstruating Women (छाउपडीका बेदना) unofficial translation:
Conversation (before the song), with daughter-in-law coming back from the forest with a full load of fodder
Daughter-in-law: Oh! Mother-in-law! Mother-in-law!
Mother-in-law: You came back just now? Why are you so late?
Daughter-in-law: Mother-in-law… I'm on my period… My stomach is hurting… So, I came slowly… I'm so hungry.
Mother-in-law: Take this roti (chapatti)… I've cooked curd curry with rice… But I can't give it to you.
Daughter-in-law: Please, give me curry and rice… Nutritious food should be consumed during the period, because the body gets weak… What's the problem?
Mother-in-law: I don’t want to spoil my buffalo by providing you the milk, curd or ghee. Go to collect firewood, take this mat and sleep in the Chhau-hut there. You can't touch anybody… Take water.
Daughter-in-law: It's really difficult to eat this roti with salt… (Moves towards jungle weeping and meets one neighbour man)
Neighbour: Sister! Sister!!! Why are you weeping? Where are you going with the sickle and rope? Are you okay?
Daughter-in-law: Brother! What to say… It's my fate… I'm on my period. I am not allowed to eat proper food and stay at home. I am going to the jungle now. I have to sleep alone on this mat in that Chhau. Brother! I am helpless. Many incidences happened in chhau-hut. Many have died there. But this society never changes. I'm frustrated of being a woman.
Neighbour: I know everything… Please don't cry. Nothing can be changed by weeping. But put your courage to raise voice against this malpractice. I am also with you and will support you.
Man: What a malpractice! Many of the daughters have to eat food with salt only and have to sleep on mat during the period.
Woman: Mother! You gave birth to me to stay in Chhau-hut and to die being a victim of tiger, bear and snake.
Man: Several women burn in the fire, suffocate and get raped in the Chhau hut. How do women resist such a pain?
Woman: No security in the Chhau hut, even less than there is for cattle. Why the cruel society does not react when hearing of such things.
Man: Oh god! What a tradition established that hurts us. Our blind society has become a women killer following such tradition.
Women: How my fate could be changed? How long should I suffer of this in the name of religion?
Both: Come together all mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Let's eradicate this malpractice and destroy the Chhau-huts.
Man: In Far-Western villages, untimely demises of menstruating women have happened.
Woman: In Far Western villages, untimely demises of menstruating women are happening.
Both: In Far-Western villages, untimely demises of menstruating women will continue to happen if not acted upon.
Fighting Chhaupadi practises and improving the situation of menstruating women has been an objective of RVWRMP since the project started. One of the first studies conducted by the project focused on these practises even though many did not want to raise this taboo topic. Find the Gender and Social Discrimination Study from 2008 here.
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