Will New Law Stop The Ancient Hindu Practice Of Chhaupadi In Nepal?

The Parliament of Nepal has criminalized the ancient Hindu Practice of Chhaupadi on Wednesday, August 9, 2017. “A woman during her menstruation or post-natal state should not be kept in Chhaupadi or treated with any kind of similar discrimination or untouchable and inhuman behavior.” According to the law, anyone who forces a woman to follow this ancient custom will confront a three-month jail sentence, 3,000 Rupee fine ($30 USD), or both. This legislation will come into effect within one year.

According to Al Jazeera, Mohna Ansari, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, said that “The law gives an open space for women to come forward if they are forced to follow the practice. It is a custom that makes women feel isolated and puts psychological pressure.” However, women’s rights activist, Pema Lhaki, shared her concern about the enforceability of the law and argued that “It’s a fallacy that it’s men who make the woman do this. Yes, Nepal’s patriarchal society plays a part, but it’s the women who make themselves follow Chhaupadi.” As well, Gauri Kumari Oli, the female Parliamentarian from the far-western district of Doti, also told Deutsche Welle that “Fear of punishment will not stop people from following this custom who think women are impure during menstruation.” As such, to ensure the effectiveness of the law, Krishna Bhakta Pokharel told BBC News that “[during] the next year we will conduct social campaigns to tell the people about this new law.”

Meanwhile, this law certainly is a landmark in Nepal, with regard to the protection of women’s rights. However, Chhaupadi, which is a traditional and cultural phenomenon, has existed in Nepal for generations. Although the Supreme Court banned the practice of Chhaupadi by guidelines in 2005, its effectiveness was limited, and without the change of social perception of Chhaupadi, Nepal’s new law remains in question. In addition, the practice of Chhaupadi in Nepal reveals the difficulty of adapting to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Asian societies, which is not only experienced by governments, but also from the society itself. As a result, this will be a continuous challenge for human rights activists.

Furthermore, Chhaupadi is traditional Hindu practice in some districts of Nepal, which forces women to sleep in cattle sheds or makeshift huts during their menstruation or post-natal period. According to the research in 2015, in Kailali and Bardiya districts of Nepal, 21% households use the Chhaupadi practice and it is a major threat to women’s health in Nepal. As well, the India Times reported that a teenage girl and two other women died because of the Chhaupadi practice in late 2016. These examples illustrate how the practice violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which needs both the local and international community to end the cruel practice.

With that said, while the situation for women in Nepal has been gradually improving, there is still a long way to go for gender equality. Thus, it is important that we not neglect the cultural impact such human rights issues have.