Once she got her period, Gauri Kumari Bayak did what girls and women across Nepal do when they menstruate — she left her family, trudged through the cold, and set up camp in a makeshift hut until she stopped bleeding.
But this time, she didn’t make it out alive.
Bayak, a 22-year-old student, reading tutor, and tailor, died of smoke inhalation after her windowless hut filled with smoke from a small fire she made to warm herself as she slept in the chilly Himalayan foothills.
She is just the latest girl or woman to die while sequestered in a menstruating hut, an ancient custom known as Chhaupadi practiced by some Hindus. Though Nepal criminalized Chhaupadi last summer, menstrual huts persist throughout the country, especially in remote areas of the West.
Some Hindu communities believe that menstruating women bring bad luck, including natural disasters, so they banish them to isolated huts where they are vulnerable to rape, animal attacks, and dangerous weather.
Around the world, women face stigma and oppression related to menstruation — a totally natural and universal phenomenon that has been branded as unclean or even, in the case of Nepal’s Hindu communities, toxic
Global Citizen campaigns on ending these menstruation taboos and ensuring that all girls and women have access to safe hygiene. You can take action here.
After communities and activists toppled period taboos throughout 2017, the persistence of Chhaupadi in Nepal proves there is still a lot of work to do in the new year.
That includes empowering women accustomed to Chhaupadi and other dangerous taboos.
Bayak’s husband, a police officer, said he did not banish his wife to the menstruation hut, The New York Times reports. Instead, he said, Bayak isolated herself in the hut to honor the custom she had grown up with in rural Nepal.
“What this is, is segregation,” Nepalese activist Radha Paudel told the New York Times. “We as a society don’t talk enough about it. We don’t talk about dignity, we don’t talk about women’s rights.