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Harmful Traditions hinder “Women Empowerment”

Traditional cultural practices reflect values and beliefs held by people of a community from time immemorial spanning generations to generations. Every social group in the world has specific traditional cultural practices and beliefs, some of which are beneficial to all people in a society; while some are harmful. I would like to direct my attention to a specific group, especially the females. The traditions of "Chhaupadi" and "Goatha jane" are the harmful practices which still exist mostly in Mid West and Far West regions of Nepal that hinders in achieving the goals of "Women Empowerment".

In the local dialect of Far West region of Nepal "Chhau" means menstruation and "Padi" refers to woman. In Mid West region, "Chhui" refers to menstruation and "Katero" means "Hut or Shed". Commonly menstruation is also called "Nachune" which translates to untouchable. Due to superstitious beliefs, a woman is considered "impure" during menarche and it is believed that a female could pollute the foodstuffs or almost any material during this time. So, for the entire period (14 days on 1st menarche thereafter 4 – 5 days) of their menstruation, women are compelled to live in the Goatha (Cow Shed), which they can only leave once their menstruation cycle is over and are prohibited to touch anything during the cycle. It is a widespread outlandish practice prevalent in far west and some parts of mid west region of Nepal. In these areas, family and society do not treat menstruation as natural phenomena. Similarly, during natal period (child birth), woman is also considered "Jutho" (Impure) and are sent to "Goatha" (Cow Shed) as well. In local dialect, this tradition is called as Goatha Jane which literally means "ready to go to the cow shed". Meanwhile, the same taboos and restrictions are also entailed in the natal period as well.

At a time when they require social support, nutritious food, due care from family and a warm home. However, during the menarche, delivery period and after child birth, women are compelled to live in cow-sheds and eat less dietary food which is extremely unhealthy for the female and her child. At a critical time when they go through pain due to labour and delivery, they have to comply with many taboos and restrictions. They are verboten to eat clarified butter, milk, curd, etc and are also prohibited to touch almost everything such as public tap water, spring, temple, home, and food etceteras. They are treated inhumanly as untouchable during these periods.

Cow-sheds are normally built adjacent to homes and in some areas, separate structure is also erected 20-25 meter far away from home. The sheds are usually very unhygienic, untidy and unsuitable for any human being to live in but women are compelled to stay in such inappropriate and inadequate cow-sheds. Due to poor hygiene and lack of nutritious food most of the women fall sick during the practice of such traditions. These open, door less huts or cow sheds create easy atmosphere for rape and sexual abuse. Sometimes within these cowsheds women and girls become victim to fatal bites by snakes or other poisonous insects and animals. Many deaths are revealed during child birth due to unsafe delivery and during menstruation due to weather conditions such as the temperature of the cowsheds which can reach below freezing degrees in the winter and equally sweltering degrees in the summer.

Despite their harmful nature and violation of national and international human rights laws, such ill practices still persist due to lack of adequate legislations and government not tackling the issue of these inhumane harmful traditional practices.

If we peruse the Women's Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979, those have clearly stipulated to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise. It has also provided a legal framework for women's empowerment and participation in the development process. It not only guarantees basic human rights and fundamental freedom but it also lays out policy measures and which targets areas of particular concern to women.

If we pore over the word "Women Empowerment" then we discover that the main theme is to bring women into the mainstream of the development process with the following five goals:

women's sense of self-worth;

their right to have and to determine choices;

their right to have access to opportunities and resources;

their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside their home;

and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just, social and economic order, both nationally and universally.

But these five important goals are vanquished by such harmful practices. Unfortunately for centuries, we have never expressed sympathy and understanding towards women and girls who, due to ignorance or unawareness of their basic human rights, have endured pain, suffering and even death inflicted upon them because of these sinister implications of harmful practices.

As per Census Report of Nepal (2011), the female population stands at 51.44% that means 13.6 million females and their fundamental rights to health, life, dignity and personal integrity are not only denied but violated which results in difficulties to attain an equitable society as well as achieving "Women Empowerment".

The same report reveals the literacy rate of female as 57.4 percent but still such practices persist because they take on an aura of morality in their eyes to practice those sinister traditions.

Although some Women's activist groups and some INGOs are continuously raising awareness and providing help and support but their efforts have been of no avail as the government is not taking any course of action to eliminate theses ill practice.

It would be appropriate to try to raise awareness among the women in an effort to change their attitude, regarding these harmful traditional practices. Changes in knowledge, attitude and behaviour of women as well as men and society are necessary conditions for achieving "Women Empowerment" and to safeguard their basic human rights.

It would also be appropriate to provide education and varieties of initiatives to make them understand that during menstruation, child birth and after birth, they are not untouchable (impure) and certainly do not bring about harm and misfortune to their house and society as well as if women interact, touch, or perform their normal duties will result in no harmful consequences.

It is of utmost importance that the people in the society need to realize that traditions should guide to evolution, not degradation. Some traditions are too precious to eliminate because they give insight to a race or define us. However, the world revolves and people evolve. This is because of change and change is constant. If we do not change, we'll never evolve but instead be stuck in the constant rule of the same belief; routine and state of mind which may be detrimental to mankind. We'll never reach the peak of wisdom and greater understanding. Constant changes make us flexible and better as people who can achieve better interaction within society. Evolution from change makes way for greater knowledge and discoveries. It teaches us to use logic in reasoning and prevents us from automatically believing what is forced down our throats. Traditions which are against proven knowledge and detrimental to society should be eliminated. It is certain that these traditions were created in olden times where people lacked the knowledge and understanding that they possess today. Those traditions which were practicable in those times may not be applicable now with greater understanding brought about by constant change and man's ever growing thirst for knowledge. Therefore, these harmful practices shouldn't be continued.

We all need to understand that sustainable and all around development of a society cannot be achieved without the full and unreserved participation of both Female and Male in the development process, and such a balanced development requires elimination of all harmful traditions and practices which hinders women empowerment and women's human rights. Empowering women is vital to any process of change and equally important is to the elimination of these harmful traditional practices.

Submitted by: Krishna Bahadur Thapa Chhetri, Sunderland, UK

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