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Bringing an end to deadly “menstrual huts” is proving difficult in Nepal

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m536 (Published 14 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m536
  1. Rojita Adhikari, freelance journalist
  1. Kathmandu, Nepal
  1. rojitaadhikari{at}gmail.com

Late last year a 21 year old woman suffocated and died in a hut in Nepal where she had been sent to live while menstruating. Rojita Adhikari finds that the practice of chhaupadi still has local support

Parbati Rawat was 21 years old when she died. “It was the 4th day of her period,” Parbati’s sister-in-law, Dambara Rawat, told The BMJ. “Normally, she would wake up early and go to the jungle to collect firewood or to the paddy field to work,” she said. But that morning Parbati didn’t join her sister-in-law. “I called her many times. She didn’t reply.”

Chhaupadi is a deeply rooted and centuries old Hindu practice used primarily in parts of far western and midwestern Nepal. It’s based on the belief that women and girls are impure, unclean, and untouchable during menstruation. When women have their periods, they are not allowed to do a range of everyday activities and are banished into “menstruation huts” to live and sleep.

The prevalence of chhaupadi is unknown, but a survey last year by researchers from the University of Bath and the Centre for Research on Environment, Health, and Population Activities (CREHPA) in Nepal gives an idea. The researchers surveyed 400 adolescent girls in villages in midwestern Nepal, the heart of the chhaupadi area. They did focus groups as well.1

The survey showed that 60% of the girls knew chhaupadi was illegal, yet 77% practised it. The researchers found the practice was widely accepted in that area, even among people with higher levels of education. And there were clear mental health repercussions for the girls. “They were around 80% more likely to be experiencing depression,” says study co-author Mahesh Puri of CREHPA.

Parbati lived in the village of Dikrini. She had been married for 18 …

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