In Nepal, a Monthly Exile for Women

In remote western Nepal, where the Himalayas brush the sky, girls spend their childhoods as they have for generations, dreading growing up.

Puberty starts a monthly exile. An entrenched, superstitious practice linked to Hinduism, Chaupadi, considers menstruating women impure and bad luck, rendering them untouchables. Menstruating women are banished, often to forests where they sleep in crude, cubbylike sheds or caves, braving extreme weather and lurking predators, from snakes to rapists. There they stay as long as their periods last, several days a month, and they must do this for 35 to 40 years.

Rarely — usually only when death strikes — does this practice, outlawed by Nepal’s Supreme Court in 2005, make the news. Last month, a 15-year-old girl choked to death on smoke after lighting a fire in her menstrual hut to keep warm, just weeks after a 21-year-old woman died the same way. Their deaths generated headlines for perhaps a day.

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