Legudsen, Nepal: Chaupadi is the practice of treating women as impure and untouchable when they menstruate. In isolated regions like Achham, chaupadi has been a custom for centuries. But those from Nepal’s cities or from abroad often don’t know what it means.
When women go through their monthly cycle, they are not allowed to enter a house or pass by a temple. They cannot use public water sources, touch livestock, attend social events like weddings, or touch others. And at night, they are not allowed to sleep in their homes – instead they have to stay in sheds or outbuildings, often with no proper windows or doors.
As I worked on this story, I met many women who had been affected by the tradition. Uttara Saud, a shy 14-year-old girl, told me that she has to miss school during her monthly cycle.
I realized that chaupadi does not just bring discomfort and isolation to the women practicing it – sometimes they even have to pay with their lives. Isolated and poorly protected from the elements, they can be killed by snake bites, freezing weather, wild animal attacks, or fires they light to keep warm, which can cause blazes or suffocation in small sheds with poor ventilation. There have also been cases of these women, cut off from their families, being the victims of rape.
Uttara Saud, 14, sits inside a Chaupadi shed in the hills of Legudsen village in Achham District in western Nepal, February 16, 2014.