Period shaming is being blamed for the death of a young woman in Nepal after she was bitten by a poisonous snake while sleeping on the floor of a cowshed.
Tulasi Shahi, 18, was sent to the isolated “menstruation hut” every month as outdated attitudes still dictate that bleeding is impure and brings bad luck to families.
The shocking ancient Hindu ritual, known as chhaupadi, sees women shunned from normal life whenever they come on. They are kept outside, even in storms, and treated like animals. They are vulnerable to rape. They are given less food to eat than usual and are banned from using blankets, bathing and going to school. They are treated in the same outrageous manner for ten days after childbirth, too, along with their newborn baby.
Tulasi’s mother took her to a shaman (a spiritual healer) when she learned of the snakebite before eventually taking her to a health clinic. Sadly, doctors did not have access to the anti-venom medicine required to save her and tragically, she lost her life.
Her cousin, Kamala Shahi, told the New York Times that Tulasi “died because of superstition”.
The Supreme Court of Nepal ordered an end to the period shaming practice in 2005 but it lives on in Nepal’s many rural communities.
Tulasi is not the first woman to die as a result. There have been at least ten deaths in similar circumstances over the past decade.
Just six prior to Tulasi’s death, another local girl also died from a snakebite, while a 15-year-old was killed by smoke inhalation after lighting a fire in her hut in a desperate attempt to stay warm.
Women’s rights activists are calling for chhaupadi to be formally criminalised and there is a pending bill in Parliament to do just that. They also want the government to spread awareness of the issue, especially to illiterate families in far-flung regions of the country who are lacking in education.
Changing centuries-old attitudes is a mammoth task, but charities working in the Himalayan region are making headway and targeting the young in a bid to improve gender equality for future generations.
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