We are excited to share that Marina’s article “Power and Empowerment: Struggle for Gender Equality in Nepal” has been published on the WIP website, here is the link:
Keep checking back for the rest of the groups’ articles throughout the month!
Our last trip to the rural Nepal was to Dolkha. It was quite an adventurous bus ride from what I hear, which I thankfully slept through. From plummeting into deep chasms etched by rivers millennia ago to being stopped and interrogated while passing multiple police posts, we had all types of excitements for one day. Once we arrived in Dolkha everyone sighed with relief when we arrived at the Panorama resort. What a view!
The hotel was situated on top of a hill that overlooked the majestic Himalayas. It was breathtaking!
Apart from tourists rarely anyone seams to be in awe when looking at the majestic mountains. I guess its understandable; everything becomes ordinary when it becomes a constant in ones life. I had the pleasure of speaking with the hotel owner, who was telling me that there are villages so remote that people there donâ€™t even know what a car is let alone any other 20th century invention. The mountains literally cut them off from the world. Looking at the path the rest of the world is taking I wonder if being so isolated is really such a bad thing!
For some the mountains are seen as obstacles to their development. Even communities that are in the lower mountainous region, like Rolpa are seriously debilitated by the lack of proper infrastructure.
The question that was posed to many different organizations in Nepal was: is the price of development worthy of destroying the natural beauty of Nepal?Â Almost unanimously the answer was yes. Everyone agreed that the need for development overarches the need to protect the environment. Some NGOâ€™s recognize the interdependence between development and the environment. However, their appeals are taken lightly by policymakers and the local population.
The level of environmental awareness in Nepal is still in its beginning stage.
Combining development with eco-friendly practices will open a mountain of opportunities for Nepal. Hopefully, I will return one day and enjoy another cup of tea while taking in the sights of the breathtaking Himalayas.
The first thing you think about when someone mentions Nepal is MT EVEREST! at least that was my first thought, when I heard that professor Iyer is taking a team there. I had no idea about the current situation in Nepal. Everything I ever thought about Nepal was so contrary to what I have seen when we got there. Even though we studied Nepal prior our departure, the reality hit me like an unhinged train when i got there. I felt like such a snob, cleaning every surface, fork, knife, glass! The five star hotel was far from what I expected a five star hotel should be like. Fortunately, my snobbiness changed pretty quickly after we visited the rural areas of Nepal.
I must give credit to our professor, she bargained for us like no other! Everywhere we went we got the best of what was offered (and I am so grateful to her for that). We went to places where the word sanitation doesn’t exist in the dictionary and to have come out of it with all of our GI tracts in tact was quite an achievement.
Recently I realized what a picky eater I am, which didnâ€™t come in handy while travelling through Nepal. A few times I felt really bad not eating the food. However in Rolpa, where the chef was the sweetest man I have so far met in Nepal, I gave it a try. He was so endearing, kind and hospitable that it was hard to refuse the food he prepared. He put so much effort into making us feel comfortable that it wouldâ€™ve been truly rude not to at least try his food. To my surprise it was really delicious! His genuine hospitality truly humbled me.
After our exploration of rural Nepal came to an end we went back to Kathmandu to our five star hotel,Â Â Â Â and did my attitude change! All i can say is that hotel was more than I couldâ€™ve ever asked for; it was warm, clean,cozy, american food, it had a hot shower and most of all –a working toilet.
Who could ever complain about that!!
In my daily routine back in Monterey I rarely think about my position as a woman in our society. I admit I take my circumstances for granted.Â Â Â Â I forgot how difficult it was for me to persuade my parents to let me go and pursue my life in a new world. I see Nepalese girls here and they remind me of that teenage passion that helped me find the strength to break away.
After graduating high school most of my girlfriends got married and had kids within a few years. I couldnâ€™t picture myself being a mother and a wife, stuck in a village when the whole world was waiting for me.
While trekking in Pokhra I talked to one of the women guides that accompanied us on our trek. She was telling me how she decided to break the norm and leave her family to pursue her goals. The â€œThree Sisters Trekking Companyâ€ gave her an opportunity to realize her dreams of becoming a teacher. In a few short months she is going to graduate. The grin on her face, when she said that made me all mushy inside. It reminded me of how easy most of us have it in the States. One of the toughest things in life is the ability to break away from your comforts and take new challenges on with courage and determination.
On every level of our social scale people find themselves confined in what is familiar and safe, no matter how bad it may be. What is out there can be very scary, so scary that people would rather live in a crime infested neighborhood than leave it and start over in a strange new world.
My familyÂ moved a lot when I was a kid, which built my backbone. I wouldnâ€™t call myself fearless, cause God knows Iâ€™m a chicken in so many areas, but I recognize today how much fear of the unknown can halter us in our track and make us miss out on all the wonders the world and humanity can offer us. I applaud everyone who is strong enough to break away from their mainstream and cross that bridge into the unknown. It is only then that we discover our true colors. Women in Nepal fight not only their fears, but fears of a whole society, and that my friends, is courage!
And to the three sisters in Pokhra, more power to you ladies! You make my heart stronger and I thank you for that.
Just the other day during our debrief Jeff brought up a very interesting point about justice. He explained that justice is a relative concept and the way his Korean culture understands justice is very different from the typical Western understanding. We tie justice to truth, reconciliation, trial and punishment â€“concepts, which are embedded in the mainstream Western culture. If we look at justice from a Eastern point of view, justice takes on an absolute role, justice will be served, if not in this life, then in the next. There is no way one can avoid it.Â Of course, I am generalizing quite a bit here, but it does make me wonder about the biases we go into the field with. Examining cultural and historical aspects of how a society perceives justice should be an important factor when constructing a long-term plan of action. Understanding this could provide us with the knowledge to change and adapt our own approach to justice in cultures such as Nepal, which is influenced not only by the West, but also by a multitude of cultures comprising and surrounding it. The West shouldnâ€™t provide justice like a fast food restaurant provides food â€“one frozen recipe for all!
Is justice relative though? I remember when the war in Croatia was declared victoriously over. We finally got our statehood. However, Croatia had to extradite those who were involved in the military operation â€œStormâ€, which liberated occupied territories in Croatia, to the Tribunal in Hague. To many in Croatia this act was viewed as highly unjust, to the point where a large number of the population was willing to give up EU membership to keep our national heroes from persecution. Many asked why are Croatians put to trial when we were not the aggressors. In this sense, I can see how justice for some is injustice for others.
Following this logic, the question that should be asked rather is who is seeking justice; is it the victims or outsiders who need to have a cause to maintain their employment?
Nepal is much more confusing when it comes to justice. We met with victims that demand justice, but their pleas continue to land on deaf ears. And we met with women human rights defenders who didnâ€™t even mention justice as part of their work, but rather distributing appropriate monetary compensation to the victims. We received mixed messages (at least I have!) when it comes to justice in Nepal. The only thing that is clear to me is that there is no consensus as to what is the best way to go about it. Some think itâ€™s a crucial step towards social recovery, while others are willing to forget about it for the â€œgreater goodâ€.
I must say, I was much happier before I knew how complicated â€œjusticeâ€ can get.
Peace in Nepal turns out to be quite a relative concept. While talking to different stakeholders we found that almost everyone had a different understanding of peace. Many dished out concepts of peace as understood in the West, such as negative and positive peace, first introduced by Johan Galtung. However, we found a profound lack of understanding what peace and peace-building truly entails. For some itâ€™s about the end of armed violence (negative peace), which seems to be sufficient in their eyes, while others understand the need to move beyond a ceasefire and start rebuilding relationships (positive peace); yet, from what we have seen their means to pursue this goal are hindered by those who find ceasefire and a blanket amnesty a good enough solution. Ceasefire is a good enough start, but it cannot stop there, and blanket amnesty will only exacerbate resentment. Ultimately, it seams the victims will have to accept whatever the government decides.
We heard from so many government officials how peace is reached and the transitional phase has begun. Their understanding of peace-building is tied to monetary compensation. One official in particular, form the Peace Commission told us how everyone is perfectly satisfied with the monetary compensation of 100 000 rupees, equivalent to $1250 for the loss of their loved ones. He said how no one is asking for the perpetrators to be punished for their crimes. They are happy, he said. I vividly remember what anger I felt when I lost my brother in the Yugoslav civil war. I hated all Serbs, all Chetnics, all Montenegrins. Lucky for me I was able to grieve without needing to see those people walking around my town with their heads held high. If that were the case, I donâ€™t know if I wouldâ€™ve been satisfied with just a few bucks.
Positive peace is based on healthy social relationships, spanning vertically and horizontally. How can anyone in Nepal expect this peace to occur if the people cant even express their grievances to one another without being politically persecuted for it. The Nepali people are asked to forget what happened and let it go for the sake of â€œpeaceâ€.Â Â Â Â Peace for whom, I wonder? Â The kind of peace politicians have in mind won’t hold for long!
After an exhausting ten-hour bus ride that resembled an episode from â€œIce Truckers– Most Dangerous Roadsâ€ we arrived in Rolpa â€“ the Maoist headquarters. Our arrival created quite a stir among the locals. During all of our meetings we had a policeman following us and reporting back on our every move. The first meeting we had was with the NGO Steps towards development Nepal. First impression was positive since for the first time I saw four women in the room. However as the meeting progressed my disappointment grew. I asked the young women what their roles were in the organization, the men interjected and started answering for them. I interjected them and asked if the women could answer. Apart from one woman that was the secretary the rest were students. I didnâ€™t understand why the other women joined the meeting, since they had nothing to do with the organization. I felt as if they were brought in just to make a positive impression on us, of how the organization is women inclusive. after discussing it with the professor, she explained that those girls came in to take notes for the police officer. i wonder why the police officer couldn’t write them down. he needed not one, but three secretaries to take notes for him! we saw some interesting gender dynamics in Rolpa. of all places we have been to here the patriarchy seams to be almost touchable.
We continued our meetings with the local Peace Committee.We’ve been told that Â out of eighteen members six are women, out of which two have already led the organization. This statement gave me some hope back. I wanted to meet some of these women, so they arranged for one woman, Roca, to come in and speak to us. Roca is also the president of the district alliance of womenâ€™ human rights defenders. I canâ€™t tell you how excited I was to meet her. She came in quite cheerfully and greeted everyone. She sat between two men and cheerfully whispered back and forth. It seemed she built a great relationship with her male coworkers. Â However, as the conversation went along I found her statements a bit unsettling. One statement in particular that stuck out was when she talked about the need to change the mindsets of women victims who go around town and openly call out the perpetrators on their crimes. She explained, for the purposes of peace these women need to forget about the past and look towards a peaceful future. I was taken aback by it! This woman human rights defender was willing to sacrifice justice for the sake of peace. What kind of peace did she have in mind? She continued saying how there is no point in stirring up the past; doing that will only cause conflict, thus jeopardize peace. This opened up the floor for some reactive questions. I told her that her stand is contrary to the mission of human rights defenders, after which she answered that she also is a victim of the conflict.Â Saying that, it seemed she wanted to correct herself to improve her image to us.
I couldnâ€™t help thinking that this woman, who came into a position of power fell victim to its seductive and corrupt nature. At first I thought there was genuine respect between her and the men in that office, but after listening to her views it was clear that she wanted to impress the men or gain their approval rather than to stand and defend those who have no voice in the community.
The mere fact that these women cry out on the streets for justice is evidence enough that justice is a crucial element of peace building that must be addressed; even if that means jeopardizing â€œpeaceâ€. Â Forcefully changing their mindset will not create nor maintain peace, but result in more conflict.
Today we trekked in Pokhra with four female guides from the Three Sisters trekking company. As we went through different villages we were approached by children from all sides. What was interesting about the kids was how they approached us.Â From the smallest to tallest they all wanted either chocolate, sweets or money, which I can imagine is a normal thing to expect when going through poor villages, but what struck me odd was when we were resting one kid came up to me and gave me a notebook which wrote, in perfect English, that the kids in the village are very poor and they need money to buy a basketball and a volleyball. When I asked him if he wrote this he answered, Â Â Â Â Â Â basketball, volleyball!Â Â Â On the other page of the notebook were all signatures of people who contributed towards the â€œbasketball fundâ€.
We were told not to give out any candy or money, since that would only enhance their poverty and make them dependent on trekkers that pass by. Just for the fun of it, I started looking to see if I could find a court where they could actually dribble that ball to see if this was about a ball or something else. Needless to say, I didnâ€™t find one.
It made me wonder who was the person that wrote the note and what went through their head. I had a restless feeling that most villagers that we met on the trek were expecting something from us. At one point they would even push their little kids towards us to give them something. I took a picture of a little boy and as soon as he saw it he asked me for money. What was funny is the fact that in middle of Nepal a seven-year-old boy is aware of royalties and copyrights â€“ not necessarily as we understand them, but he knew his face had value on that photo. It would be interesting to know if someone taught him that or if it was his own shrewd business sense.
I guess one could look at it from a more familiar angle â€“as capitalism at work. Wherever there is an opportunity to make money, a shrewd businessman will make the most of it, just as those kids in the mountains do.
As we finished the meeting with the Dalit CommissionÂ I walked out to take a few pictures of the building and surrounding neighborhood. As I was snapping photos a caught a few kids playing in the street. I invited them to see the pictures. I didnâ€™t have to tell them twice! They came running shoving each other out of the way to get to the camera first. This of course attracted more kids, so I had to take pictures of all of them. A few seconds later three pretty girls approached us slowly and curiously. They looked stunning in their colorful clothes. I had to take a picture of them. At first they were hiding behind each other, but after they saw the first picture they dropped their shyness. Their English was very limited so I took out my written down sentences, provided by Aby, and started asking them their names in Nepalese. Of course they laughed at my pronunciation, but it definitely served well as an icebreaker. Suddenly every kid wanted to talk to me.
As I was butchering their language out of no where a pretty little girl, dressed all in grey with a preppy attitude, comes up to me and starts talking to me in English. I was taken back by her fluency. She told me that she was born in America and that now she lives here with her parents. She continued asking me my name, I said Marina. What followed after was even more surprising to me, despite the fact that I should have expected such a question given the country we are in; she asked me, what is your caste ma’am? I told her I didnâ€™t have a caste and that in America we are all equal (at least on paper!), which on the other hand took her by surprise. I told the kids that where I come from everyone is “touchable”. Simultaneously I touched every kid on their head, which was very amusing to them. I asked her to tell one of the girls I took pictures of earlier that she is very pretty. She answered that she cant talk to these girls cause they are not her caste. i asked her who she played with, she said with herself.
The irony of it all is in the fact that this whole scene occurred right in front of the Dalit Commission â€“ a commission whose sole purpose is to spread awareness of caste discrimination and combat it. Sadly, this short conversation with the children proved its ineffectiveness. If they cant influence their immediate surroundings what chance to they have in changing anything on a larger scale. Maybe it is true what RJ said that the commission may have reached its potential. It brings to mind the â€œglass cellingâ€ metaphor in the States. The problem is that Dalits still donâ€™t realize that the glass is breakable. Regardless how many laws the government legalizes to protect the rights of Dalits, the reality is unless Dalits themselves donâ€™t break out of their own cages and set themselves free no effective change will occur. As seen in the Dalit movement in India, despite the fact that Dalits are equal in the eyes of the law for over fifty years, the discriminatory cast system is very much alive. If India is any indication of how long its going to take to, at least weaken the cast system in Nepal we can expect it to be not in our life time.
Today was quite a day. We visited a womenâ€™ human rights organization called WOREK. The work they do is truly inspirational. I even teared up at a point when one of the girls talked about womenâ€™s loss of dignity after rape, which as she explains, a million dollars could not compensate for. Apart from this productive meeting we had with the women at WOREK, we also met with the board members of the Dalit Commission to discuss what are the persisting challenges that the Dalit community faces in transitional Nepal and what progress have they made thus far. We met with representatives that were very eager to explain us the current situation â€“and so they did. The first thing they mentioned was the major success they made in passing a bill that made discrimination against Dalits illegal and punishable by law. As we find out later however, the bill bears very little legal status, since it lacks enforcement and implementation on all levels.
After the introduction Kiril asked the first question, which was burning on my mind too, he wanted to know how many of the board members were actual Dalits. To my surprise, they were all Dalits. After listening to the enthusiastic young man explaining the hardships of the Dalit community I had troubles believing that the board members were qualified to represent the interests of all Dalits, since they seemed a bit scripted and detached from the challenging realities Dalits are confronted with. During our preparatory workshops we got familiarized with many challenges that the Dalits face, and many of the things they told us in their introduction was as if we were rewinding the same videos we saw in the States. I had a feeling they were selling us a good story, a story we â€œwantedâ€ to hear, and of course, what a great job they do. However once we started poking a bit, their answers became vague and even utterly false, such as the statement that the word Dalit means oppressed, when in fact it stands for â€œThe People of the Soilâ€ They further explained how they have excellent relationships with other NGOâ€™s and human rights groups. Curiously tough, they have never drafted a joint policy nor have they ever combined forces to increase their chances of reaching their goals.
As the meeting was coming to an end, I asked the young presenter if there was a mechanism for a Dalit to change his/her last name, since oneâ€™s last name is a dead giveaway of ones cast, which instantaneously creates separation and discrimination. His upbeat answer was very disturbing to me. He said that the commission RECOMMENDS to Dalits, who come and seek assistance to change their name to give them a better chance. At that point I was almost certain that that man was no Dalit. Instead of empowering his community he urges them to change their identity to â€œfit inâ€ better. It made no sense to me. After talking to my professor I was assured that he and the rest of the members were Dalits.
I wondered why there is such a deep disconnect with the Dalit reality. As it turns out there is an even greater inter-sub-caste discrimination, between the â€œelitesâ€ and the lower sub-castes within the Dalit caste. Itâ€™s a never-ending cycle of hierarchical bullying and discrimination. No matter how much one gets discriminated against in the society, government, workplace, household, one will always find someone else he can exert his power over. Realizing this, a future of equality and prosperity for all Nepalese seems almost impossible. I remain hopeful since this was our second day in Nepal. Lets hope Iâ€™m wrong.