Objective: Unhealthy menstrual practices and the contexts surrounding them should be explored and clearly understood; this information could be useful while developing and implementing interventions to increase hygienic practices during menstruation and consequently increase health and well-being of women. Therefore, this study was conducted to explore traditional menstrual practices and the contextual factors surrounding the practices in the rural communities of far-western Nepal.
Methods: This was a qualitative case study conducted in the Achham district of Nepal. Semi-structured interviews were conducted among four women, three men and two female community health volunteers to collect data and thematic analysis was performed to analyze the data.
Results: We found two commonly reported menstrual practices: seclusion practice (Chhaupadi) and separation practice. In the Chhaupadi practice, women are secluded to stay in a small shed away from the house and restricted to wash or take a bath in public water sources for 5-7 days of the periods, whereas in the separation practice, women can stay in the house, but they still have several restrictions. The contextual factors that were reported to influence the cultural practices are as follows: cultural beliefs that symbolize menstruation as impure, menstrual stigma, poverty, illiteracy, the influence of traditional healers and family members, and limited effect of Chhaupadi elimination interventions. We also found that some development in the reduction of cultural myths and practices is happening, but the rate of change is rather slow.
Conclusion: Most of the Nepalese women, especially in the rural areas of far-western Nepal, are forced to follow the harmful menstrual practices because of the socio-cultural context surrounding their lives. We believe the findings of this study would be relevant in terms of developing and implementing further menstrual health-related, community-based interventions that will be responsive to the local cultural context, beliefs, and practices.
Keywords: Chhaupadi; Nepal; contextual factors; menstrual health interventions; menstrual stigma; traditional menstrual practices.