Surekha, a 14-year-old girl from Achham district, poses for a portrait inside a “goth” during her first period. This little mud house was built up several years ago in order to keep menstruating women away from their own houses, a tradition called “Chaupadi Pratha.” (Maria Contreras Coll) Surekha poses for a portrait inside the hut during her first period. When she realized she had her first period, she was ashamed and tried to hide it. “I don’t feel impure or untouchable although this practice has changed my daily life," she says. “I can’t believe that this is going to happen every month of my life." (Maria Contreras Coll)
Photographer Maria Contreras Coll traveled to Nepal to examine the tradition known as Chaupadi Pratha and see how times are changing, especially with the proliferation of technology and an influx of tourism. She told In Sight more about the tradition and what her project is about:
"The first menstruation is a turning point for every young woman in the world. In Nepal, this entry into adulthood is tied to a loss of purity. According to the Hindu faith, it is seen as a punishment for all women. In rural areas, menstrual women are exiled for a week in a practice known as Chaupadi Pratha. When they are on their period, they are not allowed to enter their houses, visit the temples or cook. Sometimes they are not even allowed to look at or talk to any male relatives.
"Dozens of women and girls have died in recent years from following this tradition, despite the practice being banned by the Supreme Court in 2005. Women are constantly at risk of being bitten by animals or choking from the fumes in the small, non-ventilated huts they are banished to. Although these restrictions have existed for decades, Nepali society is changing rapidly, with widespread access to new technologies, which are steadily becoming more and more present in the everyday lives of its inhabitants. In August 2017, for the first time in history, the country criminalized the isolation of menstrual women with a three-month jail sentence or a 3,000 rupee fine ($30), or both, for anyone who forces a woman to follow the custom.
"In Kathmandu, a new generation of young people is reinventing traditions, making them their own. Some women from rural areas have started to question Chaupadi Pratha and are becoming activists. A growing number of them lead organizations and are empowering young girls in rural areas and teaching them about hygiene. Some organizations have already liberated some rural villages from the practice.
“Last May, Menstrual Hygiene Day was celebrated for the first time in Kathmandu with the theme ‘Education about menstruation changes everything.’ Radha Paudel, a menstrual activist and author, says that ever since she was a child she was determined not to take part in Chaupadi Pratha. She said, ‘I was not going to go to the hut to sleep as my mother and sisters [did.]' Paudel also believes that the solution to getting rid of this practice rests with education, especially for young women, and believes that ‘step by step we’re going to achieve what we are dreaming of.’"
Surekha has perched in a tree to eat fruit. In some areas, menstruating women are not allowed to touch trees like the Peepal tree (a tree that represents the God Vishnu) and fruit. (Maria Contreras Coll) Surekha studies inside her house some months after she had her first period. (Maria Contreras Coll) In most of the villages, women share the goth. These spaces are commonly not well ventilated, and dozens of women and girls have died in recent years from following this tradition, despite activists’ campaigns and government efforts to end the practice. (Maria Contreras Coll) Kabita, a 23-year old woman, lies in her room in a village in Kathmandu Valley. It was built after the 2015 earthquake as a second house. Once the family returned to the old one, it became a safe space for the women of the family to spend their periods in. (Maria Contreras Coll) Narpata Boudha, a Nepalese woman from a remote village, shows the only instruments she is allowed to use when she is on her period. Menstruating women are not allowed to touch any cooking instruments or tap water. (Maria Contreras Coll) In a village near Kathmandu Valley, Radha Paudel, a menstrual hygiene activist, draws the feminine reproductive system on a blackboard in a class on menstruation. (Maria Contreras Coll) Friends watch Nepalese and Indian movies on a smartphone. (Maria Contreras Coll) "Menstruation is my power and my pride" is one of the mottoes of a cycle ride organized by a local non-governmental organization called X-Pose to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day in Kathmandu. (Maria Contreras Coll) Visitors take a selfie in Swayambhunath, an ancient religious temple in Kathmandu Valley. The flood of tourists coming in along with the power of the new technologies is inspiring young Nepalese women and men to adopt a different way of life and find ways to combine it with the old Nepalese culture. In Nepal, arranged marriages between the same cast are the most common system, but love marriages are becoming more popular every day, especially in urban areas. (Maria Contreras Coll) Gomati (left), an activist, teaches a class on menstrual hygiene, Chaupadi and early marriage in a remote village. She has been working to change the stigma surrounding menstruation all over the country. (Maria Contreras Coll) At the end of a lecture by menstrual hygiene activist Radha Paudel, all the assistants cross hands and promise: "We will talk about menstruation at home and in our communities." (Maria Contreras Coll) A mother helps her daughter put a sari on before a wedding. This family does not practice Chaupadi anymore. (Maria Contreras Coll) Menstrual Hygiene Day is celebrated for the first time in Kathmandu. The main motto of the day is “Education about menstruation changes everything." (Maria Contreras Coll)
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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