A comfy couch, a warm bed or cosy blanket are just a few of the creature comforts that I personally need to get through those crampy first days of my period. This is not to mention a steady flow of hot tea and chocolate within reach at all times. These items that bring us comfort when we’re not feeling our best are necessary luxuries, but luxuries nonetheless. Imagine then not having access to your favourite things at that time of the month but also being sent away from your home and family entirely to stay in an isolated and derelict hut away from the community. Doesn’t sound great, does it?
This is a reality for many women and girls around the world whose cultures practice menstrual isolation. This is when a menstruating women is thought to be unclean and impure and therefor must be isolated while she bleeds. Some cultures even believe that a woman shouldn’t come into contact with fruit, meat dairy or sacred cattle while on her period because of the supposed impurity. Some believe that if she touches a man, that man will become ill and possibly die. This practices is most common in rural areas of India and Nepal but has been reported all over the world.
Though this tradition has been outlawed in countries like Nepal for a decade, it is still widely practiced and is called Chhaupadi. The makeshift huts are often poorly constructed and feature filthy beds on a dirt floor, no running water, poor ventilation and expose the occupants to the elements and harsh weather conditions. If a fire is started in order to simply the occupant keep warm, the risk of smoke inhalation is high, with two deaths reported in 2016 for this reason. There have also been a number of reports of women dying from snakebites or undisclosed reasons while staying in these huts. Due to the remote placement of the huts within rural communities, the exact number of women and girls that die from this practice is unknown but multiple deaths are thought to occur annually.
Chhpaupadi was formally outlawed in 2015 by the Supreme Court of Nepal and in 2017 a law was passed to punish people who forced women into isolation during menstruation. Those prosecuted can expect to spend up to three months in jail or be fined up 3000 rupees. No convictions have been reported under this law.
However, this is an opposing point of view that some women have where they actually don’t mind the monthly isolation away from men. They see it as a reprieve from their daily chores and the chance to spend time with other women who are also menstruating.
Whatever your view of menstrual isolation, Taboo believes that no woman or girl should be forced into exile, away from her home, school, family and friends. No woman should die due to the stigma that still surrounds menstruation.
Words by Alicia Franceschini