TABOO: Global Periods is an ongoing project that uncovers the implications of menstruation in the lives of teenagers around the globe.

The first story focuses on the Nepalese tradition of chhaupadi.

Chhaupadi

in Nepal

In January 2019, a mother and her two sons, aged nine and twelve, lit a fire to keep warm in the hut they had been sent to while she had her period. The next morning, they were found dead from smoke inhalation. The three are among the latest victims of an age-old Nepalese tradition known as chhaupadi under which menstruating women are banished from most communal activities every month.

Women all over the world experience varying degrees of taboo in relation to their periods, and the chhaupadi system practised in Western Nepal is at the extreme end of the scale. Chhaupadi is practised to different extents across the region: women can’t enter the family home, use the communal water supply, touch shared food and drinks, attend weddings or other religious gatherings. The most controversial and dangerous of these rules is sending girls and women to stay in huts, adding to their feeling of embarrassment while on their period. The chhaupadi huts are mostly dirty barns, dark clay huts, or cramped straw thatched shelters. Forced to stay in them, girls and women not only have to deal with harsh weather, they also risk sexual assault, snakebite and infection caused by poor hygiene.

Small steps
Change takes courage, just ask Bhagirathi Bajagai. Since the age of 13 she has spent hundreds of hours in the family’s chhauapdi hut. Now, that part of her life is over – she has turned her back on an old tradition. She broke a strong religious taboo by serving her father, a respected Hindu priest, a glass of water while on her period. Had he known this, he would have refused it.

Three anxious days followed: “I was really scared, because I didn’t know what would happen to my father. At first he was very angry that I had tricked him, but he eventually had to accept that nothing bad happened,” she recalls. Bhagirathi won a partial victory – when on her period, she is allowed to stay in her room and attend her business studies at college. However, she is still forbidden from entering the kitchen and prayer room, and using the shared water pump. As a result, she continues to suffer allergic reactions from having to bathe in dirty river water.

Bhagirathi’s father, Devi Prasad, offers his prayers at the home shrine. As a Hindu priest who is actively involved in the social affairs of the village, he used to firmly follow chhaupadi tradition, but has now loosened some restrictions for his daughter.

When Bhagirathi first had her period ten years ago, her mother immediately moved her into the chhaupadi hut away from the family home. Now she looks back at many lonely hours in the hut, trying to stay warm under a leaky roof.
Breaking with tradition is hard when you’ve grown up with a culturally entrenched idea that is supported by your family and community. In close-knit communities breaking religious taboo can be viewed as a threat to societal well-being, even survival.
Chhaupadi adherents believe that not following the rules will upset the gods, leading to crop failure, contamination of food and water, illness among people and farm animals or unspecified “bad luck”. If someone feels ill from their period, they undergo exorcisms led by traditional healers attempting to drive out evil spirits they believe possess the girls.
The issues related to chhaupadi have not only been recognized by Nepalese NGOs, but also by the Nepalese government, which resulted in its ban back in 2005. Anyone forcing menstruating women and girls to stay in chhaupadi huts risks getting fined or getting jail time.
In 2019, after the deaths of the mother and her two sons in a hut, the consequences for those disobeying the ban on chhaupadi were made more severe. Now, families using chhaupadi huts will be denied governmental food assistance, which many depend on, as well as other social services.

A grim reality
To follow the religious tradition, Nepalese women spend up to seven days a month in dirty and unsafe huts like this one.

During chhaupadi, women and girls are not allowed to use shared water sources. Risking skin and stomach infections, they wash their clothes and bathe in the dirty river water, where buffaloes go to cool off.

Keeping the old ways
At 65, Chandra Rawal raises four grandchildren, three girls and a boy, while their parents live in India. She has a chhaupadi hut near the house, where the girls are sent to during menstruation. When asked about the girls’ safety, she says she sleeps outside on the veranda to be close to them.

Chandra sitting outside of her house, with the family’s chhaupadi hut to the right.

Don’t anger the gods
Namsara Devi Devkota, 48, is a passionate believer in chhaupadi. She makes a fainting gesture as she explains how she feels spiritually possessed and unwell if women near her do not follow the practice.

Nepal8
Namsara shares a small plot of land with her brother-in-law, who lives in a separate house with his two daughters. While on their periods, the girls are not allowed to take dairy products from the household’s cattle, touch the house, walk in the courtyard, worship at the shrine, or enter the kitchen. However, they are not forced to stay in a separate chhaupadi hut and stay in the family home instead. This is a recurring conflict in the family.

Outcast
Mina Khadka, age 15, on the fifth day of her period in the chhaupadi hut.

“My parents make me stay here. I feel embarrassed when staying in the hut, because everyone is looking at me. My greatest fear is being bitten by snakes.”

When asked about her thoughts on the recent deaths linked to chhaupadi huts, she explains that the community perceives this as a consequence of not following chhaupadi rules properly.

Mina receiving water from a relative. To follow chhaupadi tradition, they avoid touching each other or sharing food and drinks.

Mina sits in the courtyard of the family home while her two brothers play in the shade. During her period, she is not allowed to enter the home, use kitchen utensils, or drink milk from the family’s cattle.

Old rules apply
Mina’s father, Ram Bahadur Khadka, has no plans to loosen restrictions for his three daughters. To him, the reality of the chhaupadi curse is beyond doubt. If his daughters do not follow the practice “bad things can happen”, he says. If snakes enter the house or his cattle fall ill, he blames breach of tradition. Therefore, all three girls are sent to the chhaupadi hut when they are on their period. It is located close to a public road and is easily accessible to passers-by, making it a vulnerable place for the girls to stay in. When the hut is occupied – and with three girls in the home it often is – he stays in his nearby restaurant, while two territorial dogs stand guard.

“People can’t
accept change
immediately.”

A long road ahead
Five years ago, when a girl from her village was killed by a poisonous snake and another one was raped in chhaupadi huts, Sabitri Devi Rawat decided to demolish her own. To her it was mostly a safety concern; she continues to follow other chhaupadi rules though. She is now part of a campaign to abolish the use of the huts, but this effort has been met with fierce resistance in some communities.

Thank you

We would like to extend our gratitude to Chanda Chaudhari, Shyam Adhikari, Spriha Shresta and the rest of Restless Development for their important role in facilitating the contact with these communities, making it possible for us to tell their stories. Head on over to restlessdevelopment.org to learn more and get involved. Thank you to Ronisha Shrestha for the interview translation and especially to the Nepalese communities and families who welcomed us and shared their experiences.

Stay up to date and get more behind-the-scenes pictures, videos and stories.

Be part of the project

Taboo Global Periods is a community-driven project. If you are interested in telling your story, we want to hear from you: Show us how periods impact you or those around you. Show us how periods are perceived in your community or social circle. Text, pictures and videos are welcome.

The project is initiated by @OrganiCup and photographer Nikolaj Møller @nahmnahm

TABOO: Global Periods
is an ongoing project that uncovers the implications of menstruation in the lives of teenagers around the globe.

The first story focuses on the Nepalese tradition of chhaupadi.

Chhaupadi
in Nepal

In January 2019, a mother and her two sons, aged nine and twelve, lit a fire to keep warm in the hut they had been sent to while she had her period. The next morning, they were found dead from smoke inhalation. The three are among the latest victims of an age-old Nepalese tradition known as chhaupadi under which menstruating women are banished from most communal activities every month.

Women all over the world experience varying degrees of taboo in relation to their periods, and the chhaupadi system practised in Western Nepal is at the extreme end of the scale. Chhaupadi is practised to different extents across the region: women can’t enter the family home, use the communal water supply, touch shared food and drinks, attend weddings or other religious gatherings. The most controversial and dangerous of these rules is sending girls and women to stay in huts, adding to their feeling of embarrassment while on their period. The chhaupadi huts are mostly dirty barns, dark clay huts, or cramped straw thatched shelters. Forced to stay in them, girls and women not only have to deal with harsh weather, they also risk sexual assault, snakebite and infection caused by poor hygiene.

Small steps
Change takes courage, just ask Bhagirathi Bajagai. Since the age of 13 she has spent hundreds of hours in the family’s chhaupadi hut. Now, that part of her life is over – she has braved an old tradition. She broke a strong religious taboo by serving her father, a respected Hindu priest, a glass of water while on her period. Had he known this, he would have refused it.

Three anxious days followed: “I was really scared, because I didn’t know what would happen to my father. At first he was very angry that I had tricked him, but he eventually had to accept that nothing bad happened,” she recalls. Bhagirathi won a partial victory – when on her period, she is allowed to stay in her room and attend her business studies at college. However, she is still forbidden from entering the kitchen and prayer room, and using the shared water pump. As a result, she continues to suffer allergic reactions from having to bathe in dirty river water.
Bhagirathi’s father, Devi Prasad, offers his prayers at the home shrine. As a Hindu priest who is actively involved in the social affairs of the village, he used to firmly follow chhaupadi tradition, but has now loosened some restrictions for his daughter.
When Bhagirathi first had her period ten years ago, her mother immediately moved her into the chhaupadi hut away from the family home. Now she looks back at many lonely hours in the hut, trying to stay warm under a leaky roof.
When Bhagirathi first had her period ten years ago, her mother immediately moved her into the chhaupadi hut away from the family home. Now she looks back at many lonely hours in the hut, trying to stay warm under a leaky roof.
Breaking with tradition is hard when you’ve grown up with a culturally entrenched idea that is supported by your family and community. In close-knit communities breaking religious taboo can be viewed as a threat to societal well-being, even survival.
Chhaupadi adherents believe that not following the rules will upset the gods, leading to crop failure, contamination of food and water, illness among people and farm animals or unspecified “bad luck”. If someone feels ill from their period, they undergo exorcisms led by traditional healers attempting to drive out evil spirits they believe possess the girls.
The issues related to chhaupadi have not only been recognized by Nepalese NGOs, but also by the Nepalese government, which resulted in its ban back in 2005. Anyone forcing menstruating women and girls to stay in chhaupadi huts risks getting fined or getting jail time.
In 2019, after the deaths of the mother and her two sons in a hut, the consequences for those disobeying the ban on chhaupadi were made more severe. Now, families using chhaupadi huts will be denied governmental food assistance, which many depend on, as well as other social services.
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A grim reality
To follow the religious tradition, Nepalese women spend up to seven days a month in dirty and unsafe huts like this one.

Girls in chhaupadi are not allowed to use communal water sources during their days of forced seclusion. Risking skin and stomach infections, they bathe and wash their clothes in the dirty river water, where the buffalo go to cool off.

Keeping the old ways
At 65, Chandra Rawal raises four grandchildren, three girls and a boy, while their parents live in India. She has a chhaupadi hut near the house, where the girls are sent to during menstruation. When asked about the girls’ safety, she says she sleeps outside on the veranda to be close to them.

Don’t anger the gods
Namsara Devi Devkota, 48, is a passionate believer in chhaupadi. She makes a fainting gesture as she explains how she feels spiritually possessed and unwell if women near her do not follow the practice.

“I start shivering and have to take a shower and ask the goddess for forgiveness.”
Namsara shares a small plot of land with her brother-in-law, who lives in a separate house with his two daughters. While on their periods, the girls are not allowed to take dairy products from the household’s cattle, touch the house, walk in the courtyard, worship at the shrine, or enter the kitchen. However, they are not forced to stay in a separate chhaupadi hut and stay in the family home instead. This is a recurring conflict in the family.

Outcast
Mina Khadka, age 15, on her fifth day in the tiny chhaupadi hut that month.

“My parents make me stay here. I feel shy when staying in the hut, because everyone is looking at me. My greatest fear is being bitten by snakes,” she says.
People in her community blame the recent deaths in chhaupadi huts on the victims themselves for not following the rules properly.
Mina receiving water from a relative. To follow chhaupadi tradition, they avoid touching each other or sharing food and drinks.
Mina sits in the courtyard of the family home while her two brothers play in the shade. During her period, she is not allowed to enter the home, use kitchen utensils, or drink milk from the family’s cattle.

Old rules apply
Mina’s father, Ram Bahadur Khadka, has no plans to loosen restrictions for his three daughters. To him, the reality of the chhaupadi curse is beyond doubt. If his daughters do not follow the practice “bad things can happen”, he says. If snakes enter the house or his cattle fall ill, he blames breach of tradition. Therefore, all three girls are sent to the chhaupadi hut when they are on their period. It is located close to a public road and is easily accessible to passers-by, making it a vulnerable place for the girls to stay in. When the hut is occupied – and with three girls in the home it often is – he stays in his nearby restaurant, while two territorial dogs stand guard.

A long road ahead
Five years ago, when a girl from her village was killed by a poisonous snake and another one was raped in chhaupadi huts, Sabitri Devi Rawat decided to demolish her own. To her it was mostly a safety concern; she continues to follow other chhaupadi rules though. She is now part of a campaign to abolish the use of the huts, but this effort has been met with fierce resistance in some communities.

“People can’t accept change immediately,” she says.

Thank you
We would like to extend our gratitude to Chanda Chaudhari, Shyam Adhikari, Spriha Shresta and the rest of Restless Development for their important role in facilitating the contact with these communities, making it possible for us to tell their stories. Head on over to restlessdevelopment.org to learn more and get involved. Thank you to Ronisha Shrestha for the interview translation and especially to the Nepalese communities and families who welcomed us and shared their experiences.

Stay up to date and get more behind-the-scenes pictures, videos and stories.

Be part of the project
Taboo Global Periods is a community-driven project. If you are interested in telling your story, we want to hear from you: Show us how periods impact you or those around you. Show us how periods are perceived in your community or social circle. Text, pictures and videos are welcome.

The project is initiated by @OrganiCup and photographer Nikolaj Møller @nahmnahm

TABOO
Global Periods.

TABOO: Global Periods is an ongoing project that uncovers the implications of menstruation in the lives of teenagers around the globe.

Menstruation affects the lives of half the world’s population, but not in the same ways. From feeling embarrassed or not being able to afford period products to being restricted by religious and social rules.

The impact of any taboo is difficult to understand when viewed from the outside. That is why, this project’s purpose is to explore factors such as culture, economics, and gender discrimination, that are linked to menstrual taboos and traditions in a wide variety of settings – from the jungles of the Amazon, rural Africa, to central London, and beyond.

The project is initiated by OrganiCup and photographer Nikolaj Møller.

Design by Spine Studio

Text by Rasmus Folehave, Ida Gjørup, Madalena Limao

TABOO
Global Periods.