efe-epaKathmandu

In a tragedy that led to a global outcry early this month, a woman and her two children were found dead in a hut in Nepal’s western Bajura district.

The incident has sparked a local deputy mayor's mission to end the practice of chhaupadi, which forces menstruating women to stay into rudimentary shelters.

On the freezing Jan. 8 night, Amba Bohara had been exiled to the windowless mud and stone hut to wait out her menstruation, and had lit a fire to keep herself and her sons, aged nine and 12, warm.

When Bohara's mother in-law opened the door to the hut the next morning, all three were dead. According to local police, they died of suffocation due to lack of ventilation.

Bohara's death has shone a spotlight on the taboo that surrounds menstruation in the Himalayan nation and mobilized a campaign spearheaded by the local deputy mayor to eradicate chhaugoths or menstruation huts, and the taboos that come with them.

"This is an ill religious practice that has killed many women. This deeply entrenched belief should be ended now," Shristi Regmi, deputy mayor of Budinanda municipality in Bajura district, around 720 kilometres west of Nepal's capital Kathmandu, told EFE.

Regmi is traveling to every village in remote Bajura - her own constituency and the district with the lowest human development index in Nepal - to demolish these huts with the help of the local administrations.

In most of South Asia, menstruating women and girls are considered impure and are often isolated and barred from taking part in daily activities or auspicious occasions.

For centuries in Nepal, menstruating women and girls have been exiled from the home to separate huts, although the practice was banned over a decade ago.

The 26-year-old deputy mayor has so far managed to dismantle 80 menstrual huts across various municipalities.

After the death of Bohara and her children, Regmi said all municipalities have been given two weeks to demolish the huts that fall within their jurisdiction.

"We are collecting data on who have demolished their chhaugoth and who have not. Those who have not done, their name will be made public and barred from state facilities," she said.

There are no exact details on the number of chhaupadi huts in Bajura, although Regmi estimated that there could be around 120 spread across nine localities.

"The campaign is becoming big. But it is difficult to end this social taboo," Bajura journalist Arjun Shah told EFE.

Following the death of Bohara and her sons, Nepal's Parliamentary Hearing Committee also issued directives to the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens to book families who force girls and women to practice chhaupadi.

While chhaupadi is practiced all across Nepal, in rural and remote areas - especially in western Nepal, one of the poorest regions in Asia - it has been fatal for women.

In western Nepal, for example, women are forced to stay in small stone sheds with grass roofs without proper ventilation.

These sheds are often unhygienic and women sleep on the floor with straw and only a thin blanket.

Deaths mainly occur during the winter months from December to February when, like Bohara, women light fires to stay warm but die of suffocation.

In some places women stay, such as cattle sheds, they have been bitten by snakes, attacked by wild animals and raped.

"It's a widely accepted practice all over Nepal. From literate to illiterate and from elite to poor - all follow this menstruation belief," Bajura Chief District Officer Chet Raj Baral told EFE.

"But the difference is that in the far west region of Nepal, this practice has been killing women," he said.

"We cannot totally eliminate this social practice but we can create awareness that menstruating women do not need to be isolated," he said.

Baral said the District Administration Office has dispatched a letter to all local governments ordering them to dismantle the huts.

The Supreme Court banned chhaupadi in 2005 and in Aug. 2017, the Nepal government criminalized the practice with a three-month jail sentence and/or a penalty of Rs3,000 ($30).

"It's challenging to end this centuries-old belief within a short span of time. But it's not impossible," Regmi said.