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Background: Menstrual exile, also known as Chhaupadi, is a tradition of “untouchability” in far-western Nepal. Forbidden from touching other people and objects, women and girls are required to live away from the community, typically in a livestock shed, during menstruation. We assessed the lived experiences of Chhaupadi among Nepalese adolescent girls in the far-western Achham district of Nepal, observed the safety and sanitation of their living spaces during Chhaupadi, and assessed the perceptions of local adult stakeholders towards the practice of Chhaupadi. Methods: We collected data from 107 adolescent girls using a self-administered survey in two local schools in Achham. We also conducted a focus group discussion with seven girls, held key informant interviews, and observed the girls’ living spaces during Chhaupadi, using a checklist. Descriptive statistics of the quantitative survey and thematic analyses of qualitative interviews are presented. Results: The majority of the girls (n = 77, 72%) practiced exile, or Chhaupadi, during their menstruation, including 3 (4%) exiled to traditional Chhau sheds, 63 (82%) to livestock sheds, and 11 (14%) to courtyards outside their home. The remaining girls (n = 30, 28%) stayed inside the house, yet practiced some form of menstrual taboos. Of the 77 observed living spaces where the girls stayed during exile, only 30% (n = 23) had a toilet facility. Most exiled girls (97.4%) were restricted from eating dairy products. Participants reported having various psychological problems, including lonliness and difficulty sleeping while practicing Chhaupadi. Three of the girls were physically abused; nine were bitten by a snake. Notably high proportions of the living spaces lacked ventilation/windows (n = 20, 26%), electricity (n = 29, 38%), toilets (n = 54, 70%) and a warm blanket and mattress for sleeping (n = 29, 38%). Our qualitative findings supported our quantitative results. Conclusions: Chhaupadi has been condemned by human rights organizations. While the government has banned the practice, implementation on the ban is proceeding slowly, especially in far-western Nepal. Thus, as a temporary measure, public health professionals must work towards promoting the health and safety of Nepalese women and girls still practicing Chhaupadi.


Community Health

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