by Matilda Branson
Correct me if I’m wrong – and I always hope I am – but I doubt many are familiar with the current status of Nepal’s political situation. Basically, it is politically unstable and has had a transitional government at its helm for the past few years. On the 27th May 2012 the new Constitution will come out, hopefully including within it the rights of many of the country’s minority groups.
One such group currently lobbying the government for their rights to be included within the Constitution are Dalit women.
Who are Dalits? Think of the caste systems prevalent in South East Asia, established centuries ago, intertwined with Hinduism used as a mode of ensuring social stratification and the maintenance of social hierarchy. Right at the bottom of the caste system sit the Dalits, the ‘untouchables’, viewed as ritually impure, polluting and regarded as sub-human. To be a Dalit, and a woman- it’s double discrimination all the way, from not being allowed to share the same water tap at school with your classmates (if you are lucky enough to even get to school), to being killed for marrying outside of your caste.
What is the interest of an Australian feminist in the situation of Nepal’s Dalit women? I currently have the privilege to be working with the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO), a national level NGO dedicated to promoting Dalit women’s rights, eliminating caste and gender-based discrimination and promoting justice and equality in Nepalese society. I don’t really want this to turn into an NGO plug, but these guys really are awesome. As well as advocating at the national level for Dalit women’s rights (with the constant risk of arrest), FEDO runs a range of programs in health and sanitation, education, institutional development, peace-building, economic empowerment and political representation. Since 1994, FEDO has helped put Dalit women and Dalit rights on the map, in a society where Dalits, particularly Dalit women, had never before been considered. They currently have over 2000 women’s groups and 50,000 directly engaged members benefiting from their projects throughout Nepal – no small achievement, given the size of some of the Himalaya they need to get over to deliver the projects.
Right now, Dalit women are definitely doing it for themselves – lobbying the government for Dalit women’s rights, as the date to the release of the new Constitution gets closer, protesting, having sit-down strikes, being arrested, imprisoned, then doing it all again. They have exhausted the softer forms of advocacy, which have largely have gone unheard, and are stepping up the pressure on the government in the only ways it seems they can be heard.
It’s feminist advocacy at its greatest – it warms the heart and puts a tingle down my spine seeing these women fighting for their rights.
(photo by Gamdrup via Wikimedia Commons)