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Smoke inhalation suspected to have killed 21-year-old who lit fire to keep warm while observing controversial practice of sleeping outside during menstruation
A woman has died in a remote village in Nepal because of a controversial tradition that means menstruating women are required to sleep in huts.
Temperatures in Nepal can fall below zero degrees celsius in the winter months, but women are still forced to sleep in outdoor sheds that are often poorly insulated and unheated.
Government administrator Tul Bahadur Kawcha said the 21-year-old woman is believed to have died from smoke inhalation after lighting a fire to keep warm.
The Hindu tradition of consigning menstruating women to sleep outside stems from fear that they will anger the gods or contaminate the home if they remain indoors. In rural areas, it is widely believed that failure to observe the practice will lead to bad fortune in the form of death or sickness among family members or livestock. While married women usually stay outside for only a few days, others remain banished for up to a week.
Kawcha said menstrual exclusion is still common practice in remote villages, despite a supreme court ban and the imminent introduction of a law to punish anyone guilty of enforcing the custom with three months in prison or a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees ($29). The new law comes into effect in August.
The news follows numerous cases of deaths in relation to menstrual exclusion. In November 2016, Dambara Upadhyay died alone after spending four nights outside. Dambara, 21, was found by her sister-in-law found with blood coming out of her nose. Though local police suggested she might have suffered a heart attack, the initial post-mortem report could not determine a cause of death.
Other fatalities have been attributed to wild animal attacks, but the most common cause is smoke inhalation from fires started in an effort to keep warm.
Aid workers in Nepal have encouraged people to follow safe menstrual practices but, with belief in the practice remaining deep-rooted, change has been slow. A little progress has been made, however, with some families persuaded to allow menstruating women to sleep in secluded indoor rooms and others reducing the number of days spent outside.