In recent years, menstruation has become a trendy topic in the international sphere. Period Poverty and Mindful Menstruation are the buzzwords used to remind us of how difficult menstruation is for those who don’t have access to sanitation facilities and menstrual products. International media and policy makers are talking about the importance of understanding menstruation and providing everybody, including the most vulnerable in society, with menstrual hygiene products.
The public has also become increasingly aware of the practice of menstrual banishment, known as Chhaupadi, in Nepal. Articles and documentaries tell the tale of young women who are forced to live in terrible conditions during their menstrual cycle, kept away from their homes in a cowshed (Chhau Goth) for between four and seven days every month. The practice of Chhaupadi has the hallmark of a grave human rights violation and is therefore sensationalised by the media. Feminists and activists are up in arms about this kind of discrimination.
In reaction to the problem, a few years ago numerous organisations and local women destroyed the Chhau Goths in which they were staying during menstruation. This was a dramatic act of rebellion against a deep – rooted cultural and historical tradition. However, the hope that the destruction of the goths would also end the practice was dashed when reports emerged of women proceeding to reconstruct the Chhau Goths, or to end up staying in even worse conditions.
Over the course of my fellowship, I have come to realise that these techniques did not work because Chhaupadi is a not only a physical practice, but also a mindset. People believe that menstrual blood is impure, and that they must be separated from their families and loved ones in order to protect them. They are afraid of angering the gods and causing problems for their families. It therefore doesn’t mean much if they have destroyed the goth or not: what really matters, is whether they have changed the way they think of menstruation. And changing a mindset is, of course, much more difficult than changing a physical condition.
It is for this reason that I have come to believe fully in CAED’s approach towards menstruation. CAED trains local people (also called Model Couple Campaigners) about these issues so that they can discourage their fellow village members from carrying out harmful practices such as Chhaupadi. The logic behind this approach is that villagers will trust these locals and be more receptive to their ideas than they would be to the views of an outsider. And it works: through education and monitoring, more and more families are allowing their daughters to stay in the home during their periods. Although its not the radical, ‘quick’ solution that destroying Chhau goths promotes, its reliable and sustainable.
Having spent 10 weeks watching the implementation of this technique, I now believe that other organisations, both local and international, should adopt this also. After all, it is only by understanding a context, its culture and its traditions, that one can begin to bring about change.
Posted By Boroka Godley (Nepal)
Posted Sep 5th, 2019