Life in a little village in Surkhet, West Nepal, follows the same pattern that has been followed for many years, generation after generation.
Most people are subsistence farmers. Most are not able to read and write, and live in poor conditions. A majority of men in the village leave their families in search of seasonal labour in the urban areas of Nepal or India.
Even more deep-rooted in the village is the practice of menstrual untouchability (chaupadi system), restriction and isolation. They believe that women and girls are impure, and they live as outcasts during menstruation. They are banished to an isolated ‘menstrual shed’ for 5 to 7 days and girls cannot go to the school. They are allowed to eat only green vegetables, milk and milk products, and cannot enter the kitchen, sleep on their bed, or touch water, food, clothes, utensils and other people (especially men) for 5 days.
Deepa, a young woman says, “I was forced to stay in an isolated menstrual shed during my period for many years. The hut was not safe and it was very difficult to stay there during rainy and winter seasons. I was not allowed to go to school and had to follow many restrictions.”
Balika, 17, has also experienced this. But Balika is a Change Agent, and is armed with the knowledge of child rights and reproductive health. So she sought to change this little corner of her world.
“I began talking about this harmful traditional practice with my family and friends. I convinced my parents and grandmother to end menstrual untouchability. Change Agent facilitators visited my house and discussed menstrual taboos with my parents which also helped to change their attitude to some extent. Gradually, they stopped snooping on me during menstruation and now I completely stopped practicing menstrual untouchability. I stay in my room and sleep in my bed as usual.”
“I am now allowed to speak and touch my brothers and other male members of the family,” she adds with a small, triumphant smile.
Balika now goes to school even during her periods. As a result, she is performing better in her studies. She continues to be a part of Asian Aid and CAED’s activities to empower children, women and girls to enjoy and utilise their rights.
“The number of households practicing menstrual untouchability has decreased and girls have started attending school regularly,” Balika says. “One day, I hope that all the taboos and superstitions associated with menstrual restrictions will end, girls will not be forced to marry early, but will instead aim high and dream big.”
Author: Pudens Isabel
One part writer, one part photographer & two parts traveller…
Two years ago I decided something needed to change, so I quit my corporate job and started working for Asian Aid from my home in India.
Since then I have been visiting Asian Aid projects with my camera and notebook in tow, to bring pictures and stories from the field to you.