A woman in Nepal, Amba Bohara, and her two children died last week while confined to a menstruation hut in their village.
With her two children, she barricaded herself in a menstruation hut (a centuries old tradition in Nepal, where menstruating women are seen as “impure”) and built a fire to protect her children from the wintry conditions.
By the morning, all three were dead.
Uddhab Singh Bhat, deputy superintendent of police, has explained why he believes the women and children perished. “It seems they died from suffocation. The hut was so small. It was very difficult to breathe.”
The death of Bohara and her children is tragic without a doubt. It does, however, reveal a greater issue in Nepal’s society. Women are being shunned for menstruating, a completely natural bodily function.
Nepal has criminalized the act of shunning women from their homes for menstruation, yet the act is a centuries-old tradition that still hasn’t been eradicated from society. This practice, known as chhaupadi, is actually still widely followed across the country.
Women who live in places where chhaupadi is widely followed must change their lifestyle once their period comes. They are not permitted to visit temples, use other villagers’ kitchen utensils, or even wash using communal water sources. Some religious Hindus in the country believe it is bad luck to touch a menstruating woman.
The menstruation huts that women resort to are often small and are made of mud or rock. Sometimes they must sleep next to goats. Additionally, women also face sexual assault because of men who prey on them, knowing they are likely alone inside the hut.
Bohara’s death is not the first to occur because of conditions of a menstruation hut. At least one or two women die each year while staying in a hut due to exposure, animal bites, or smoke inhalation as a result of building fires.
The criminalization of shunning women and forcing them into menstruation huts just went into place last August. Women’s rights activists have claimed that it has had little impact on the country. In addition to this, no one has been charged for following chhaupadi.
“Tradition is stronger than the law,” stated Rewati Raman Bhandari, a lawmaker who pushed for the criminalization of chhaupadi.
Bhandari explained that villagers, police, and local politicians remained silent on pushing for the eradication of chhaupadi-related practices.
“The situation is miserable. It seems nothing is changing,” said Mohna Ansari, a member of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal.
Women around the world face unfair treatment and living conditions simply because they are menstruating.
Without the push for change from the majority of society, women will still be subject to horrible societal norms because of their periods.
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