The last blog post written by Josie Zimmerman excited me with the discussion about female headed companies that are trying to provide the menstruating public with more products. However it also reminded me how women in other countries not only don't have options or access to menstruating products, but are shamed and put to the side lines of society while they are on their periods.
One of these countries is Nepal, a country which I love and receive my heritage from, but one in which rituals surrounding menstruation that shame and ostracize women continue to be practiced. This is most evident in the practice of Chhaupadi. Recently covered in a Guardian article this year, Chhaupadi instructs a woman be banished to a shed or structure outside of the main house and dictates that she not enter her home, cook, touch her parents, go to school or school. If a woman does not follow the dictates of Chhaupadi she is told she will bring destruction and misfortune to her family. "If she touches a crop, it wilts; If she fetches water, the well dries up; If she picks fruit, it doesn't ripen" (The Gaurdian).
Chhaupadi, which translates to "untouchable being," has been practiced in parts of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. Its origins can be found in ancient Hindu scripture which says women are highly infectious while they are menstruating. While often thought of as solely practiced in rural isolated villages, an NPR article "A Girl Gets Her Period and is Banished to a Shed: #15 Girls" showed that the ideas surrounding Chhaupadi effects even girls who live in cities and have progressive parents. The article interviewed Prakriti, a teenager living in Kathmandu and studying for the SAT's to get into an American university, who told reporters she was blamed for her father's hospitalization for touching him while she was on her period. Even I, as a half Nepali growing up in the United States, was told by my father's aunt that I was not allowed to visit the temple while I was on my period.
While shame around menstruation is still ongoing and prevalent in South Asia, there are efforts to fight the stigma. Women in Nepal are beginning to flip the script on the long held ritual of Chhaupadi. For example, Prakriti who was told her father ended up in the hospital because she broke a dictate of Chhaupadi, has written her own book Imposter, which envisions a society where menstruation gives women superpowers. Also in India, entrepreneurs like Arunachalam Muruganantham are creating affordable and safe menstruation products for women who had previously been relegated to using dirty rags in private.
Chhaupadi is a practice that not only effects a woman physically - where she sleeps and eats, but also effects her mentally. It instructs her that having her period is something negative, something that only brings her distress and loneliness. The practice not only tells girls they are less then boys, but puts them in a position of inequality in society. While the practice won't disappear overnight, every small action that fights the stigma of menstruation will help take down Chhaupadi.