A menstruation hut is a place of seclusion or isolation used by certain cultures with strong menstrual taboos. The same or a similar structure may be used for childbirth and postpartum confinement, based on beliefs around ritual impurity. These huts are usually built near the family home, have small doors, and are often dilapidated, with poor sanitation and ventilation, and no windows. The Nepali version, the Chhaupadi, is probably the best-known example, but cultural attitudes towards menstruation around the world mean that these huts exist, or existed until recently, in other places as well. The use of menstrual huts continues to be a cause of death, from exposure, dehydration, snake bite, smoke inhalation, and so on. The use of these huts is illegal in some places.
Use in Ethiopia among Jewish women
Menstruation huts in Ethiopia hold a special place, as Jewish women try to continue this custom. In Ethiopia, they refer to these menstruation huts as margam gojos. Within the margam gojos, there are few utensils, some pieces of equipment, and some basic furniture. The stones are placed in a circular shape around the menstruation hut at a radius of one and a half meters; these stones help distinguish between perceived impure and pure spaces. Menstruation blood is thought to be impure as Jewish Ethiopians believe the failure to give birth is manifested in the blood. If anyone were to come into contact with the woman during their menstruation, they would too have to stay in the hut. Therefore to avoid contact, the family of the women in the margam gojos will leave food outside the door. If her blood is to touch food or drink, it would be thrown out. This is why women wear leather belts under their shirts with fabric tied to them to prevent any dripping. The same idea is conveyed in that a Jewish woman cannot go to or cross rivers during menstruation lest she drip and contaminate the river. Once a woman has finished menstruating, another woman will watch her immerge in the river. There, the woman who has just finished menstruating will wash herself and the clothes she wore in the margam gojo. After she and her clothes are clean, she will then change into pure clothes that have been retrieved from her home. The only time that a Jewish woman ceases going to the margam gojo is when she starts menopause, as it puts an end to the impurity because the woman becomes more similar to a man.
In Judaism, when a woman becomes niddah (cast out during menstruation), she may remain in a niddah hut for some of the time. These huts are absent in Israel, but exist in the Ethiopian highlands. The women must stay in the hut, usually located on the margins of the village, for seven days. Women there report negative as well as positive views on the practice. Some describe fear, cold, and lack of food, while others enjoy the social interaction, relaxation, and rest. While in these huts, the women can not cook, apart from coffee and the roasting of grain. Others may bring food to them, but while doing so they take care in avoiding physical contact.
Chhaupadi in Nepal
According to the tradition of chhaupadi, Hindu women in western Nepal reside in a small hut, called a Chhau Goth, for 5 days during menstruation. However, the tradition requires those menstruating for the first time to stay in the hut for at least 14 days. In some communities, these huts may also be used by pregnant women to deliver babies. The huts may be made of mud and stones and may have roofs made of grass. Normally, they do not have windows, and the women sleep on straw on the floor covering themselves with a thin blanket. In a Nepali survey around 2017, one district with around 49,000 households had over 500 of these huts. Although the practice of using menstruation huts was made illegal in 2005 by Nepal's supreme court, the first arrest under this legislation did not take place until 2019.
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- Cicurel, Inbal (2007). "Women in the Menstruation Huts: Variations in Preserving Purification Customs among Ethiopian Immigrants". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 23 (2): 69–84. doi:10.2979/FSR.2007.23.2.69. JSTOR 20487899. S2CID 144587075. Retrieved 2020-11-13.
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- "Female Purity (Niddah) Annotated Bibliography - Jewish Women's Archive". jwa.org. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
- "Nepal makes first 'period hut' arrest after woman dies during banned custom". the Guardian. 2019-12-06. Retrieved 2020-11-20.
- Kroeber, A. L. (1925). Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78.
- Media related to Menstruation huts at Wikimedia Commons