EDITORIAL: For greater activism

The local school is a good place for intervention, where an appropriate curriculum could help create awareness among the students

The Supreme Court may have made chhaupadi illegal as early as 2006, but that has not prevented the death of more than a dozen women and girls in two districts of Sudurpaschim Province alone in the past one decade. The chhaupadi is a tradition that banishes women to a chhau, or menstruation shed, outside the home during the period. The most recent one to die was Parbati Budha Rawat, 21, in Safebagar Municipality in Achham district of far-west Nepal on Monday. As many as 14 women are said to have died in Achham district in the last 10 years while a mother and her two young sons died of suffocation in nearby Bajura. These are cases that have been reported in the media, and the actual number of women who have died in a chhau shed could be much, much higher, according to women rights activists.

It is inhumane to leave a menstruating woman alone in a shed, where there are chances of her dying of suffocation, snake bite, animal attacks and fires. Those forcing women and girls to live in a chhau face a three-month jail term and fine, but this has not deterred households from keeping the chhaupadi alive. Its belief is so ingrained in society that even legislation and campaigns by both governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have failed to make people see reason. The chhaupadi tradition is not pervasive across Nepal, and is found only in a few districts of mid-west and far-west Nepal. But doing away with the chhaupadi is proving more difficult than envisaged earlier, even though women rights activists have been at it for more than two decades now.

Greater activism by the government, NGOs and society will be needed to put an end to the harsh tradition. At the forefront of this activism should be placed the ward offices, with their elected representatives and government officials, as they are in constant contact with the local people. The local

governments have been empowered with 22 rights, and it is only right they be allowed to take the initiative to tackle the chhaupadi also. Addressing the cause of the problem, namely the ingrained psyche of the people, should help in abolishing the chhaupadi. The local school is a good place for intervention, where an appropriate curriculum could be

introduced to create awareness among the students. The message would automatically reach a wider

audience through them. For this, the teachers, a by-product of the society, would need to change first, and this could be done through an orientation. The FM radio is another powerful tool in disseminating information. Unlike in the past, FM radio stations are widely distributed across the country today and could be used to bring change in the perception of the local people. A visible campaign in the form of banners and flex boards at places and stickers on vehicles should be just as effective in raising the consciousness of the society. If we want concrete results, the activism should not be limited to a few pocket areas, as has been the modus operandi of the NGOs. A holistic approach targeting all the affected districts should reap rich dividends sooner than later.

Education for all

Margeshwori Primary School in Dhankuta has long been facing problems in running classes for children with disabilities due to lack of adequate classrooms and expert teachers. Making a bad situation worse, Dhankuta Municipality has not released funds to the school yet though eight months have passed since the academic session started. The school management has also been demanding a special training session for the teachers. Neither the municipal authority nor the District Education Office seems serious in addressing the genuine concerns of the school management in time. While children with disabilities have very low rates of initial enrolment, they are more likely to drop out and leave school early without transitioning to secondary or higher secondary level because of exclusion or segregation.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRCPD) requires states to provide reasonable accommodation for individual students to enable them to access an inclusive education. As a signatory to the UNCRPD, Nepal must put such a system in the local levels, respecting the right to education of children with disabilities. Our education system must be equally accessible to every student regardless of their physical or mental abilities.