For the past 12 years, menstruating girls in some regions of Nepal have continued to be banished from their families thanks to a religious tradition — despite a Nepalese supreme court ruling in 2005 banning the practice. Now the country is hoping to finally put an end to the practice of Chhaupadi, or exiling Nepalese women on their periods, with a new criminal law. It imposes a three-month jail sentence and a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees, or about $29, on anyone who enforces the custom, The Guardian reported.
The ongoing practice of Chhaupadi, a Hindu tradition, meant that some women in mostly Himalayan western Nepal continued to spend their periods in mud sheds, the idea being that they kept the impure blood out of the home. In addition to the obvious problems regarding gender equality, some places where women have been forced to stay are not safe or even sanitary. It has at times resulted in sickness and even death due to cold temperatures, animal attack, or infection.
But before fines start getting handed out, there will be a public education program, member of parliament Krishna Bhakta Pokharel explained to the paper. It will come into force in August 2018. "For the next year we will conduct social campaigns to tell the people about this new law,” Bhakta Pokharel told The Guardian. "People will be discouraged to follow this discriminatory custom due to fear of punishment," he added to The Independent.
After that year passes, what will be vital is enforcing the law, activists told Reuters. Renu Rajbhandari, the head of the National Alliance for Women's Human Rights Defenders, explained that they will continue to be vigilant, watching out against the "inhumane practice":
Community and women's rights campaigners must remain vigilant and report any case of Chhaupadi. Such vigilance will force the government to strictly enforce the law.
What's at stake is huge. Global Citizen reported in July that four women and girls had died due to the practice over the prior seven months. One was bitten by a snake, one died in the cold, and another suffocated after building a fire in a poorly ventilated hut. The fourth was thought to have died of a heart attack.
As far as the social campaigns that are necessary to reform the culture, some are well underway. Women from the region have spearheaded a campaign to bring awareness to others in the region through Restless Development, a U.N. Trust Fund-supported NGO working in Nepal. Young women teach classes on reproductive health that show young women the facts behind menstruation. Many have then successfully shared that information with their families to stop the tradition.
More social programs over the next year, combined with the fines in 2018 may finally put an end to the practice and the preventable deaths that accompany it.