Female teachers at a primary school in Bajura district of Sudurpaschim province skip classes when they are menstruating.
The reason is a local superstition that women on their periods will anger the village deity who resides in the school area.
Shree Janaprakash Primary at Ratuda village in Badimalika Municipality is where many local children get their foundational education. The school runs classes up to Grade III with its three teachers, two of whom are women
“I don’t go to school during my menstruation because everyone says I will make the village deity angry by doing so,” says Nira Bista, one of the female teachers. “Women who are on their periods don’t go near the school area, ever.”
Bista is absent from the school for five days a month. The same goes for the other female teacher. In a year, the two female teachers are absent for a total of 120 days, which is a lot in a school short on staff.
Kabita Bista, deputy mayor of Badimalika, is aware of this situation.
She says the municipal government wants to solve the issue through community-level discussions.
“We have to get everyone on the same page. The village shamans, priests, men and women must all agree to end such a practice,” she says.
Easier said than done. The local government here has long been campaigning to dispel the taboos and superstitions surrounding menstruation—to no avail.
Take for example the drive against the outlawed practice of Chhaupadi, where menstruating girls and women are banished to live in outhouse sheds. As part of the campaign, five of the nine municipal wards were declared ‘Chhaupadi-free’. Deputy Mayor Bista says the remaining four wards will also soon be declared Chhaupadi-free.
But this campaign’s success is cosmetic, belying the reality. Yes, there are many ‘Chhaupadi-free’ areas in Badimalika these days, but menstrual taboos and superstitions are still rampant.
The myth that women on their periods are impure, that their presence can sully hallowed temple grounds, is deeply embedded in the minds of local residents.
Bista, the schoolteacher, knows it is irrational, and an outright discrimination, to ban women from public places just because they are having their period. But she also believes the story of the omniscient village deity she has heard of all her life.
“Deep down I do fear that something terrible may befall the village if I go to the school when I am menstruating,” she says.