Nepal has made headlines in recent years after girls and women have died sequestered in "menstrual huts," as part of a tradition called "chhaupadi."
Now, girls are sharing their stories and speaking out against menstrual shaming in a short documentary called I Am Not Untouchable, I Just Have My Period,produced by the New York Times. The film highlights the pain and daily struggles associated with chhaupadi — an age-old tradition of separating girls and women from their families and barring them from participating in daily activities during their periods. The practice stems from the belief that menstruating girls and women are "impure."
Even though chhaupadi was outlawed in 2005 — the practice has persisted.
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I Am Not Untouchable, I Just Have My Period follows the lives of eight adolescent girls and the shame they experience because of menstruation.
"In Nepal many people believe that girls are impure when we are menstruating," said one of girls featured in the documentary. "We are often treated as untouchable during our period."
The girls, between the ages of 12 and 18, each provide a different perspective on the custom and how it has impacted their lives.
The Nepalese government made it illegal for anyone to force a menstruating woman or girl to isolate herself, making it punishable by with a fine and a three-month prison sentence, in 2017. And just this year, the government reaffirmed its commitment to banning the practice, but the stories the girls share are devastating.
One girl says she bathes in the cold river water, is confined to a dark room, and prohibited from seeing the sun during her period. Another, while allowed to attend school, has to hide from her brother or, according to her family's belief, could be the cause of his early death.
Yet another is sent to live in a mud hut every month, the most commonly observed chhaupadi practice, which has led to the deaths of several girls, women, and children in recent years.
Last year, Gauri Kumari Bayak, 22, was found dead in a secluded mud hut. Known throughout her village for her admirable self-confidence, Bayak, a high school student, led classes on birth control and taught underprivileged children how to read and write. She suffocated in her menstruation hut after building a small fire to keep warm.
This year, two deaths have already been accounted for. In January, 35-year-old Amba Bohara and her two sons lost their lives in the same way as Bayak, almost exactly a year later. And in February, 21-year-old Parbati Bogati, fell prey to the same fate.
Despite laws abolishing the practice, these stories and those shared in I Am Not Untouchable, I Just Have My Period highlight the fact that the problem of period stigma in Nepal is far from over.
"My hope is that our generation will end the stigma against menstruation in Nepal," said one of the girls featured in the film.