We don’t talk about dignity, we don’t talk about women’s rights

The disgust-horror at menstrual blood kills another woman.

KATHMANDU, Nepal — The last time anyone saw Gauri Kumari Bayak alive, she was gathering grass and firewood. Considered impure because she was menstruating, she was about to sleep outside in a cold hut.

She never woke up.

According to the police, Ms. Bayak is the latest victim of a very old tradition in rural Nepal, in which religious Hindus believe that menstruating women are unclean and should be banished from the family home. She was found dead on Monday, apparently having asphyxiated after building a small fire inside the hut to keep warm.

Get outside, woman, with your disgusting shedding of the endometrium that is every human being’s first source of nourishment and survival. Get outside into the cold. We’ll stay in here where it’s warm but you have to go out into the cold because you have that kind of body that can grow a human and then push it out into the world. Get out.

In Nepal, one of Asia’s poorest countries, dozens of women and girls have died in recent years from following this tradition, despite activists’ campaigns and government efforts to end the practice.

Menstruating women often trudge outside at night to bed down with cows or goats in tiny, rough, grass-roofed huts and sheds. Many have been raped by intruders or died from exposure to the elements.

But at least their icky blood was out of the house.

The government of Nepal is taking steps to make it illegal to force menstruating women outside, but they’re going slowly.

All of this, of course, was too late for Ms. Bayak, 22, who has been described as a talented, highly motivated young woman. Her family said she had been teaching illiterate women to read while finishing her own high school degree, and sewing dresses at night.

No more high school, no more teaching other women, because now she’s dead…because she menstruated.

Radha Paudel, a Nepali women’s rights activist, was struck by the fact that Ms. Bayak’s family was relatively educated and well off.

“This is what makes me upset,” Ms. Paudel said. “Even people who consider themselves very sophisticated, very educated, very cultured, they are still doing this, because of religion.”

The practice is called chhaupadi, which in the Nepali language means something like “tree omen.” The vast majority of Nepal’s population is Hindu, and in ancient Hindu culture, menstruating women were considered toxic — if they entered a temple, they polluted it; if they handled the family’s food, everyone would become sick; if they touched a tree, that tree would never bear fruit.

Screw ancient Hindu culture. Get over it.

Last summer, another young woman died while following the chhaupadi ritual. That woman had been banished to a small hut where she was bitten by a poisonous snake.

“What this is, is segregation,” said Ms. Paudel, the activist. “And we as a society don’t talk enough about it. We don’t talk about dignity, we don’t talk about women’s rights.”

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