St Albans entrepreneur speaks out about controversial Nepalese tradition of locking out “untouchable” menstruating women

Ruby Raut

Ruby Raut - Credit: Archant

A Nepalese woman, who now lives in St Albans, is speaking out about her experience of Chaupadi - a tradition which banishes menstruating women from the family home.

If the practice is followed, women on their period cannot come inside the house because it is believed they will contaminate everything inside during what is considered to be an impure time.

In the most extreme cases, they must live in claustrophobic sheds, without much food or air.

The issue was catapulted onto the global stage last year when a 15-year-old girl fatally suffocated after lighting a fire in a poorly ventilated building she had been forced to reside in.

Now Ruby Rautm, who came over to the UK when she was 20 years old, is speaking out about her experience of the tradition in aid of Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Ruby experienced her first period at 12 years old, and had to spend the week in her aunt’s house, away from the family home.

She lived in a part of Nepal that practices a less extreme Chaupadi, and although the ordeal was limited to that first time, Ruby could not go outside into the sun, look at men, or touch any plants - in case they died.

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For four days of her period every month after that, she was forbidden to enter the kitchen because she was considered too dirty.

Ruby explained the word for period in Nepalese literally translates to ‘untouchable’: “Chaupadi is a social tradition in Nepal for women, which prohibits them from participating in normal family activities during menstruation, as they are considered untouchable.”

Adding: “As for menstrual products my mother handed me some old saree rags which were, yes, reusable and eco friendly, but it was also a worry in my mind that it might fall whilst I am doing any kind of sports or constantly shifting of the pad.

“There was also some kind of embarrassment in drying the rags out in open.”

When Ruby came to the UK she was astonished by the range of sanitary products available which were openly bought and sold - in Nepal they are wrapped in newspaper and exchanged discreetly, for fear of embarrassment.

In response, Ruby has dedicated her time to creating a type of reusable underwear which absorbs menstrual fluids, coined WUKA (Wake Up Kiss Ass period). She will start crowdfunding in the near future.

She also gives menstrual education talks to teenagers as a volunteer project coordinator for Women’s Environmental Network’s Environmenstrual project, and is involved in helping a charity called Nepal Earthquake Recovery Fund’s menstrual project.