Can you imagine being exiled, banished, or excluded from everyday activities for seven days every month for having a regular monthly cycle? Being told to live in a hut or a house in your village or neighborhood where "impure women" like yourself who are merely menstruating will be kept apart from society.
If there isn't a hut nearby, you might be forced to stay in your room and told not to touch flowers, plants, food, babies, animals, holy scriptures, or enter temples or mosques during your period.
This might sound like fiction, but in present day Pakistan and Nepal, menstrual huts called Chhaupadi or Bashali are common across many communities.
What causes menstrual exclusion?
Lack of access to and affordability of menstrual products
Repulsion and disgust with menstrual blood
The perception that menstruating women are "cursed", "dirty", or "impure"
The intentional limiting of women's participation and mobility in traditional society
No sex education or reproductive discussions at home or in schools
Religious, social, and cultural practices practiced over centuries
Families, especially older generations, pushing young people to follow their outdated ideas about health and hygiene
Lack of proper sanitation facilities in homes or schools
Media messages where menstruation is invisible as a topic, or mocked and stigmatized
Boys and men not having the opportunity to understand or discuss menstruation
What are the risks associated with living in menstrual huts or houses?
Sexual assault and harassment
Women and girls living alone in menstrual huts have reported intruders, especially men from nearby villages or towns barging in and sexually harassing or even kidnapping them.
Extreme weather conditions
In 2019, Parwati Budha Rawat in Nepal was found dead in a windowless menstrual hut only 100 meters from her home. She had tried to light a fire due to extremely cold temperatures.
In 2017, an 18-year-old girl died in Nepalafter she was bitten by a snake while banished to a shed because she was menstruating, under an ancient practice that has been banned for more than a decade, officials said.
Poor mental and physical health conditions
Being alone in a menstrual hut can be emotionally overwhelming for a child who has started her period. Menstrual disorders, excessive bleeding, and infections cannot be addressed in these unsafe conditions.
What's the history of menstrual huts?
India and Nepal
Menstrual exlcusion began with the belief that an ancient Vedic deitynamed Indra created menstruation as a curse on women.
In India, menstrual huts are called kurma ghars. This is mostly practiced in Tamil Nadu and western Indian state of Maharashtra.
In Nepal, this practice of exclusion is called Chhaupadi. It's practised mostly in the in Western part of Nepal.
Yap, Yurok, and Paez People
In Yap, which is a group of islands in the western pacific north of New Guinea, women's houses were created sideways along the shore for menstruating women & their new born babies to live.
In Pakistan, the indigenous Kalash community has a special name for the menstrual hut called Bashali.
Many women and girls see this more as a safe space and respect this cultural tradition.
In Ethiopia, menstrual huts or "margam gojos" are built. They derive from ancient Jewish traditions that found their way to Ethiopia. The houses are very basic facilities with some utensils, equipment, and furniture.
Women in the huts are not allowed to cook. According to traditional beliefs, menstrual blood is considered impure, so if anyone comes into contact with a menstruating women, they have to join them in the margam gojos. That's why food is left outside the hut by family members. This practice ends only with menopause.
Menstrual huts are a way for women to feel safe, healthy, and supported during their period.
Can't we ban menstrual huts or legally end this practice?
In 2005, the Nepalese Supreme Court banned the practice of exiling women during their period & in 2007 passed laws to punish and financially penalize family members or people forcing women into period exile.
While the government push to end menstrual huts is ongoing, the Centre for Research on Environment, Health, and Population Activities (CREHPA) in Nepal conducted a study of 400 adolescent girls in villages. The study found that despite 60% of girls knowing it was illegal, 77% still accepted & practiced it.
What can I do to help end menstrual exclusion?