Nepal’s parliament has passed a bill against exiling women during their periods. The new law goes into effect from August 2017, and will make anyone who forces women into exile during their periods liable for up to three months of punishment in jail or a fine of about 3,000 Nepalese rupees.
In Nepal, the custom of making women leave their homes during their period was widespread across the country. Women would often stay in unhygienic and unsafe huts or cow sheds. This practice was called Chhaupadi and was made illegal a decade ago. However, there were no punishments attached to those who still followed it.
“People will be discouraged to follow this discriminatory custom due to fear of punishment now that the new bill is passed,” said lawmaker Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel. She was part of the committee that drafted the bill.
There was a lot of public outrage after three highly publicised deaths of women who practised chhaupadi in the last ten months. An 18-year-old died from a snakebite while staying in a shed last month. Last December, a 15-year-old girl died from inhaling smoke after lighting a fire to warm herself. And last November, another girl died of undetermined causes while staying in a shed.
According to a government study conducted in 2010, 19 per cent of Nepali women practice chhaupadi. Up to 95 per cent of women in the mid and western regions of Nepal practise it. Local police will destroy chhaupadi sheds and make sure that families do not rebuild them. However, this practice may not be the most effective because the sheds are also used for storage and keeping animals.
The law is part of Nepal’s effort to modernise its laws. The country aims to replace the old criminal code, Muluki Ain. Now if a woman practises chhaupadi, she will do so in the house. Women’s rights activist Pema Lakhi says that it is a fallacy that men make women practise chhaupadi. Sometimes, the women insist that they follow it. That is why interventions that stamp down on its root causes are needed, she told the AFP news agency.