NEPAL’S coalition government has passed a Bill aimed at tackling misogynistic abuse of women by introducing a penalty for “chhaupadi” — the practice of forcing women and girls into isolation during menstruation.
The new law is due take effect in August next year, with violators who drive women into exile facing punishments of up to three months in jail or a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees (£20).
Many menstruating women are still made to leave their homes and take shelter in unhygienic or insecure huts or cow sheds until their cycle ends.
The tradition was outlawed in 2005, but there were no punishments specified by law — meaning it remains prevalent in parts of Nepal.
Aside from being forced out of their homes and banned from touching men on the grounds that they are unclean, menstruating women are prohibited from eating certain foods, including milk and meat, and often confined to live in sheds until their period is over.
While in isolation, they can face bitter cold or attacks by wild animals.
“People will be discouraged to follow this discriminatory custom due to fear of punishment” now that the new Bill is passed, said MP Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel.
But female MP Gauri Kumari Oli, from the far-western district of Doti, said yesterday that the legislation alone would not be enough, and the government should also invest in educating women on good hygiene.
“Fear of punishment will not stop people who think women are impure during menstruation from following this custom,” Ms Oli warned, adding that she herself had been made to observe the custom, albeit not so strictly.
The legislation also criminalises other deep-rooted customs that harm women, including slavery and the dowry system, under which a woman’s family must secure her marriage prospects by paying the groom and his family. It also toughens the penalties for acid attacks.