Nepal – an insight into life in this most patriarchal of countries.
Words and photography by Parris Bambery
After more than a year living and working on superyachts in the Mediterranean, I’d seen first-hand the luxurious lifestyles of the rich and famous. But despite all the fabulousness, I was left with a desire to explore life at the other end of the spectrum. So I travelled to Nepal. It was a country I’d hoped to visit, since hearing stories from my mother who had travelled there herself in the 1970s. I imagined it would be a different place, but as I was to discover, in many ways it hadn’t changed enough.
I arranged to stay with and volunteer for The Mountain Fund, an organisation aimed at providing mountain communities with access to healthcare, education and economic opportunities. Through the Fund I was put in touch with a local newspaper where I volunteered as a photojournalist.
I soon realised that although Nepal is a country of immense beauty, it has a dark undertone of injustice towards women. It remains a highly patriarchal society where Nepalese women have a lower life expectancy than men, and most women are discriminated against, both socially and economically.
My goal was to meet some of these women and to discover a little of how they were living and the daily challenges they faced. The more I communicated with them, the more I uncovered a common thread of marginalisation, abuse and exploitation. As a young woman myself, I found it hard not to be affected, and even harder to accept the dire circumstances facing them, solely because of their sex. These encounters left me with a sense of responsibility to do all I could to help, if only in small ways.
I visited various ventures throughout Nepal trying to empower women, including women’s skill development projects and a trekking company aimed at introducing female hiking guides into the Himalayas. I met school teachers pushing the traditional boundaries of their sex and caste.
One women’s co-operative farm project was an initiative created by The Mountain Fund aimed primarily at helping women and their children who have been shunned by society and left with little or no means of support.
Some of the women were widows who’d been tossed out of their homes. Others were victims of the sex trade or domestic abuse. By purchasing land and constructing housing and a self-sustaining farm, The Mountain Fund provided essential needs – shelter and a place to grow food – removing these families from the trap of abuse and poverty.
I also spent time with the organisation Antardristi, which is dedicated to rescuing young female survivors of sexual abuse. Antardristi is the only one of its kind in Nepal, and its team of women provide safe houses, trauma counselling and education across the country while working with prosecutors to bring the perpetrators to justice. It’s my hope that organisations such as this gain momentum to support and empower the women of Nepal. I also hope more travellers consider undertaking volunteer projects abroad. For me now, it’s about making others aware of the issues in any way possible, no matter how big or small.
Parris has since held a fundraising photography exhibition where the proceeds went towards creating a brighter future for Nepalese women.
See more of her work at www.parrisbambery.com