Sofalta’s story – Menstruation huts in Nepal
In parts of Nepal, traditional beliefs lead women to be considered bad luck during menstruation. These beliefs are so deeply held that families take extreme risks, isolating menstruating girls and women in cowsheds or menstruation huts in a centuries-old tradition of Chhaupadi.
Themes: Menstruation, harmful traditional practices, legitimate limitations, health
In parts of Nepal, traditional beliefs based in Hinduism lead women to be considered dirty, impure and bad luck during their monthly menstruation and immediately after childbirth. At these times women may not touch their husbands, water sources, fruit trees or livestock. It is believed that allowing women inside the family home during menstruation will infuriate the gods with dire consequences for the family and wider community.
Beliefs around menstruation are so deeply held that families take extreme risks, isolating menstruating girls and women in cowsheds or menstruation huts in a centuries-old tradition of Chhaupadi. In these huts, women are exposed to extreme temperatures and unsanitary conditions, resulting in risks of pneumonia, diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections. Each year a number of women die – from suffocation, hypothermia or snakebites for example.
Sofalta, 16, was terrified to tell her parents once she started menstruating. “It would mean staying in the cowshed, and I didn’t know if I could do it. I feel horrible here – the cow dung smells and the animals step on us. The dirt and hay get stuck all over my body. I wish that I didn’t have a period.”
Gita Rokaya, another woman from Sofalta’s mountain village in the western district of Jumla says “If we stay in the house [instead of the shed], we get ill because our deities don’t approve of it. We don’t want to live like this, but our gods won’t tolerate it any other way.”
Although the supreme court of Nepal banned the practice in 2005 and criminalised it in 2017, it is still widespread in western parts of the country, where low development rates, gender inequality and illiteracy contribute to its continuation. In these areas, the tradition is often supported by community elders, family members, traditional healers, and priests who have a profound influence in the community.