"Vulnerability of Nepalese women"
"I eloped with a man from the low caste as my parents did not approve my marriage with him. We moved to Kathmandu and settled here. He was a micro-bus driver (one of the means of local transport), and I gave birth to two children, a son and a daughter. But as year passed by he stopped coming to home and when he did he used to become violent and beat me and my children and did not provide any monetary support. With no skills and education I had to make my children sleep with empty stomach and withdraw them from their school. And one day I discovered that he has been staying with the girl of his own caste in another part of the city. After that followed the arguments, verbal and sexual abuse and he finally moved to stay with that woman. I left my family for him and was so devastated and wanted to commit suicide but due to my responsibility to look after my children I could not do that also. Then with the hope to get into foreign employment I borrowed the amount of Nrs 35,000 and paid to the broker but during my health check-up, HIV virus was seen in my blood. So with no skills and nowhere to go I ended up as a commercial sex worker knowing I am infected with the virus. As he ruined me I want to ruin the men of this society by transmitting the virus"
This was the story told by one of the woman at Raksha Nepal and the essence of this statement might not be confined to one particular commercial sex worker but to many as women are into these situations as men they trusted and believed let them wander in the streets. Imagine yourself being born to the Badi community of Far western region of Nepal who has been given the tag of commercial sex worker right after the birth or yourself being offered to the temple as one of the offerings or imagine yourself being sold to the brothels or using commercial sex work as a last resort to sustain your life. How difficult is to imagine but the thousands of women in Nepal are going through this fate and are vulnerable to acquire and transmit HIV/AIDS
You must have been amazed that traditional caste based occupation of Badi community is commercial sex but indeed it is true. When the world is advocating from human rights to animal rights, people in Nepal are forced to follow commercial sex as a ritual and are deprived of their rights. Badi are the people who migrated from India to Nepal and settled in the far western region some centuries ago. Basically they were the entertainment caste: singers, dancers, musicians and men used to fish, manufacture madal (musical drum) and fishing nets. But over the time period the female were taken as concubines by the landlords and left then when they had children. And gradually as the sex business boomed men became dependent on women for their livelihood and gave up their tradition of entertainment and confined themselves into the commercial sex.
Daughters of poor people are bought by rich people and are made offerings to the temple. This custom has been called Deuki, meaning the girl offered in the temple, from the mere age of 7. After she has been offered to the temple, she ought to stay in the temple and work for its maintenance. They were not allowed to married or go to school but now some are going to school and some are married whereas majority ends up as a commercial sex worker. Though government has banned these customs these still prevails and is verified by the presence of 7 year old girl in the temple today. In the absence of livelihood options and presence of religious superstitions and poverty such customs are still practiced.
In line with ritualized commercial sex the numbers of women trafficked and are willingly involved in commercial sex is at an increasing trend in Nepal. Many grassroots level organizations have been working on mass awareness and in rescue and rehabilitation. But the government has not yet shown any positive signal in addressing the issues basically of those wishing to and has decided to come back to the normal lives.
Likewise, the forceful enforcement of rules to close down restaurants, lodges, hotels after 10.00 pm in Kathmandu has further escalated the problem of commercial sex workers. On the one side, abuse from the clients, security officials and owners and on the other injustice from the government has further made their condition even worse. These laws were enforced without proper mechanisms which let commercial sex workers destitute and were subject to further abused by the brothel owners. Without any other employment options the shutting down of hotels and lodges shows the myopic attitude of the government in planning and implementation. Moreover, the women activists are also silent in this matter and only few had raised their voice against it or standing against the patriarchal society of Nepal.
Moreover, the recent government data on HIV and AIDS shows that housewives are the ones being infected from HIV and AIDS. This increment data of Housewife infected shows that their husbands are in contact with sex worker who are HIV infected. This trend is even more serious in western part of Nepal where most of the men travel to India for work. As HIV and AIDS is one of the growing epidemics in developing world, the government being passive towards the issue of commercial sex worker and feminization of HIV and AIDS can result the nation in further economic deprivation. If this is the trend then the development budget that the country now is spending on various infrastructure buildings and on societal issues needs to be spent on health which will take Nepal into the vicious circle of poverty, hunger, destitution.
The overall situation depicts how women in Nepal are at the verge of getting HIV/AIDS. The government has different plans and programs to address these issues but in the absence of implementation these will have no effect. Besides, awareness raising programs the government should also focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration of these women and provide adequate support to these groups and should leave the situation to some grassroots level organization only.
The issues associated with Badi, Deuki and CSWs are not of theirs only, the issue is associated with every citizen in Nepal. This has been the cross-cutting issue being neglected by the nation, society and citizens but its linkage with that of youth, health, employment and women which cannot be undermined. The government's lethargic attitude towards the plight of these citizens needs to be seriously advocated by the civil society, youth group, women activists and help them attain a respectable position in the society.
"Majority of the sex workers are against the legalization of commercial sex in Nepal" says Ms. Menuka Thapa, chairperson of Raksha Nepal. This shows that the women are not comfortable with their profession and are afraid that if their identity is disclosed then the society will look down upon them. At the time when Badi women who are so called ritualized to this profession are advocating for rehabilitation and other livelihood options, legalizing the profession will be a wrong decision. In a country like Nepal where social norms and values are more followed than that of the national rules and regulations, the legalization can bring both the positive and negative impact to the society and the persons associated with it. But the lack of policies can even make the situation worse, the government is working on anti-human trafficking but knowing the fact that there are Commercial Sex Workers (CSW's) willing to switch their profession government is not showing any initiation to address them and leaving it to the non-governmental organizations shows that government is not sincere enough to address the problem or not ready to accept the situation.
Today, as Nepal is getting a new shape through the new constitution; the Interim Plan 2007 and the former constitution of Nepal, 1990 does not mention the whereabouts of these women which shows that the government does not accept their identity. As the function of the every state is to incorporate its citizens' issue but the government has not been able to do so in this case and at this stage of post-conflict transformation as well their issues are still looked down upon. If this is the trend then when will the voice and issues of these women be heard and when will the state do just to them?
The current CA members are 601 among them 197 are female CA members, the CA members comprises of people from different walk of lives, from a bonded labor to the representative of sexual minority advocating their plight in the constitution making, so in the absence of these women, these CA members should also be advocating their issue to help them attain a respectable position in the nation. There are few CA members who are interested in raising their voice at the Constituent Assembly but the issue is just being a political agenda and is not taken seriously. In absence of appropriate policies and their implementation they are not only facing various forms of discrimination, they are also been equally neglected by the society and the nation. This can bring negative impact in the society are the issues of women or their families, this issue is associated with each one us and we need to be proactive to address this issue.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.