I just read a New York Timesarticle by Cheryl Strayed (remember her?) and her husband, Brian Lindstrom, about the custom of chhaupadi,which places severe restrictions on girls and women when they are menstruating. I had read about chhaupadi before, but this time the article was accompanied by a video of young Nepali girls speaking about their experiences. The young women touched me, both because of the humiliation they have endured as well as their courage in speaking out.
In many rural parts of Nepal, menstruation is treated as something shameful or threatening. Girls and women who are on their period are isolated from their families, sometimes restricted to a dark room, sometimes forced to stay in a hut or sleep in a forest. Many have died from the cold, or suffocation from smoke inhalation, or from snake bite. Often they are not allowed to talk to anyone or look at their brothers or fathers, or attend school.
For six years I have sponsored Puja, a bright young woman who is now 20 years old. She faces many challenges, one of which is growing up in a society where women are often seen as inferior and incapable of achieving as much as men. That is why I am so grateful to Mitrata. Puja will never have to endure chhapaudi. Far from being made to feel ashamed, Puja is loved and nurtured and encouraged. She is told that she is beautiful and smart, that she has talents and gifts which she must use and share with the world. She is now at university and studying to become a teacher. I believe that she will pass on these positive messages to her students as well, male and female alike.
I hope for a world where young girls and women feel proud of their bodies and proud of who they are and proud of the contributions they can make. A world where women have an equal voice with men. A world where chhapaudi is a thing of the past.
Click here to read the original opinion piece “I Am Not Untouchable. I Just Have My Period.” by Cheryl Strayed and Brian Lindstrom for The New York Times published on March 8, 2019.