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On the occasion of International Human Rights day the EU in Nepal, together with UNICEF, organized a high level discussion programme on Chhaupadi – a harmful traditional practice faced by females during menstruation and following childbirth, which has recently become punishable by law.
The EU's half day seminar, which was held on December 12th in Kathmandu, focussed on this important topic, highlighting legal, physical (nutrition, hygiene, etc.), educational and psychological aspects and impacts of this practice. We were delighted to welcome high level experts, including Nepal's Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, to share their views and perspectives and ensure a fruitful discussion, as well as practical conclusions on what needs to happen next. In order to reach out to a wider audience, we also welcomed a national sports hero, Nepal's national cricket captain Paras Khadka, who as a professional athlete and Nutrition Goodwill Ambassador of Nepal, knows the importance of a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Menstruation marks the beginning of womanhood, and childbirth the arrival of motherhood, both natural states of being a woman and a key sign of reproductive health. However, in Hindu culture these states of being are also considered impure. While the strength of such belief and application varies across different communities, some level of restriction is found practiced almost everywhere in Nepal. Those restrictions still remain severe, largely in remote villages in Mid-Western and Far Western regions of Nepal.
On the basis of such beliefs, during menstruation or following childbirth, women and girls, notably in rural areas, have often been forced to stay in a separate shed outside the main house, even in severe cold. There they are exposed to harassment and abuse by men, and animal attacks. As a result, they risk ill-health, hunger and disease, if left unattended following childbirth can suffer from complications, in extreme cases Chhaupadi can lead to death. Traditionally, this social taboo also restricts females from entering their homes, in particular kitchens, the using of public water-taps, participating in religious functions, going to school, eating nutritious food, including milk and other products. As this occurs repeatedly throughout their lives, it establishes a pattern which must also have an impact on woman's psychological well-being as they see themselves as being perceived as "unfit" for society in their very femaleness. These prohibitions have a number of detrimental effects on women's physical and mental health, development and wellbeing. But this is not just a women's issue. This is about all Nepalese, including men, deciding what kind of society they want in the future.
Chhaupadi practices have been recognized as a violation of human rights internationally and in Nepal. The EU delegation and the rest of international community and NGOs have been engaging in intense policy dialogues at the community and government level related to this topic, as well as implementing over the years a significant number of projects in cooperation with local partners on raising awareness, working on changing mind sets and educating women as well as men, on this practice.
On August 9, 2017, Chhaupadi was criminalized by the Nepali Parliament. This practice is nevertheless deeply embedded in people's psyche, deriving from very old cultural, social and religious values. Thus the path towards its elimination in all households is a long and challenging one.
The legal prohibition of Chhaupadi is the first step. The next step is implementation, and this will require a change of mind set, which is never an easy task. We are hopeful that the implementation of the new law and continuing debate, as well as different government and community programmes supported also by international development partners, will over time ensure that in the future Nepali women and girls will live their lives as females without stigma or prejudice against their bodies or their minds.