In Urthu, Jumla District, in Nepal’s Mid-Western Region, women marry young, have children young and die young. Life expectancy for women is 50, (eight years younger than men) and as one local young man described it, the women are treated like mules. Jumla’s population of 105,000 serves as a microcosm of the gender rights situation across rural Nepal, aid workers say.
Boy children are given preference for school, food and clothes. Men can take four or five wives. Women wash their husbands’ feet then drink the water in the morning, and it is disrespectful to even speak the name of their husband to another.
A group of women met in Urthu to talk about their hardships, risking repercussions when they returned home. The women said matter of factly that men generally pass the time by gambling and drinking. But when asked how they might improve their situation, they were speechless - until, Badam Mahatara, 46, entered and broke the silence:
"In this community there is never-ending discrimination against women. There is a six-day celebration when a boy is born and there is nothing when a girl is born. I have two daughters and two sons and I decided to send both my boys and girls to private school, but people in the community didn't like it. Sometimes women are discouraged by other women.
"I was 15 when I married and 18 when I had my first child. I cannot read and I never went to school, but after my children learned how to read and write I wanted to learn how to sign my name, and I did. My children taught me.
"I learned to think more about discrimination and a better way to live after we gained access to others a few years ago through the road WFP [World Food Programme] built. That's where I got ideas about the need to change.
"I also went to visit another Nepali town, Lumbini, through a Western Uplands Poverty Alleviation Project, to see how women act and are treated there.
"I did not learn about empowerment from my village - there are no good ideas here.
"My husband has a job and supports my ideas, but he used to snatch money and misuse it on gambling and drinking.
"To change our community, we have to do it ourselves. I don't feel I am a leader, but I think I can change my community if I change myself."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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