Fed up with molestation, Nepali women are learning to fight back

  • With a growing number of individuals and organisations providing self-defence classes, young girls and women are tackling their harassment head on
- SACHITRA GURUNG, BHAKTAPUR

Apr 10, 2019-

In matching yellow tracksuits and ponytails, 18 girls, between the ages of 10 and 17, walk into the auditorium. It is the first day of a 10-day self-defence class at the Parizat Nestling Home, an organisation that shelters orphans and underprivileged girls. Padma Khayargoli, the instructor, begins her session with an introduction and a presentation about what constitutes harassment.

“First, it is important to make them aware about different forms of harassment before teaching them how to tackle it,” says Khayargoli.

Then, Khayargoli walks the girls through possible scenarios—what if someone grabs them from behind while walking down the street or if someone makes a lunge for their necks. For each case, she teaches moves to tackle and deflect the attacks—defensive postures, placing the attackers in a hand or headlock, kicking or punching their vital organs, and shouting for help. Since the girls in the class are small in frame, attackers could easily overpower them; so Khayargoli teaches them to use everyday things, like keys, umbrellas or bags, as weapons. The moves that Khayargoli teaches are a combination of karate, wushu and taekwondo.

Khayargoli, a karate player and vice-president of the Nepal Self-defence Association Bhaktapur, has been teaching self-defence techniques to young girls and women for over a year now. She provides training to schools, colleges and workplaces, and so far, she’s conducted her sessions in 26 districts.

“Women are much more likely to be victims of sexual harassment because most often, women lack power and self-confidence,” says Khayargoli.

“This puts them in a more vulnerable and insecure position.”Sexual harassment and rape are rampant in Nepali society. In 2018 alone, there were 1,131 rapes, 536 attempts to rape and 11,629 cases of domestic violence in Nepal, according to the Women and Children Service Directorate of the Nepal Police. These are reported cases; the actual number is assumed to be much higher as many cases go unreported.

“Our society forces women to suffer in silence no matter what has happened to them, as it brings shame to the family,” says Khayargoli. “If women are encouraged to be vocal about uneasy experiences and unwanted actions, then most problems regarding sexual and domestic violence will be minimised.”

Khayargoli believes that self-defence training can help women combat physical and sexual harassment, while also providing them with a sense of empowerment and

self-confidence.

“Even if you are capable of taking down a person, the attacker may overpower you as you will not be expecting it,” says Rashmila Prajapati of Women Empowerment Nepal. “You need to be mentally aware and quick with your defence. A self-defence workshop teaches you that.”

Prajapati too has been teaching self-defence to girls and women ever since she herself took classes from Edessa Ramos, an instructor from Switzerland, in 2012. As harassment prevails everywhere, whether it is at work, school, the streets, public transportation or at home, Prajapati believes that it is better to take precautions and learn how to adequately defend yourself.

Girls participate in a self-defence training programme conducted by Girls Kick in Dhangadi, Kailali.Photo: Girls Kick

Prajapati and her team have been providing self-defence classes to girls above 10 years of age, along with awareness workshops for girls under 10.

“The self-defence training has given me confidence and a sense of freedom,” says Nagma Shrestha, 25, one of Prajapati’s students. “I don’t cower while walking the streets at night now.” While many women acknowledge the need for self-defence training, it is often quite difficult to get them into classes and have them take the classes seriously.

“In our inaugural class, the students were shy and embarrassed to talk about harassment. They giggled throughout the workshop when we were trying to teach them some techniques,” says Niraj Neupane, president of Girls Kick, another organisation that has been teaching self-defence for about two years now.

This pilot programme, held at K&K College for International Women’s Day, wasn’t as successful as Neupane had hoped, but later, some of the students approached him personally to conduct a five-day workshop. The success of that workshop led Neupane to form an organisation to provide similar training to women across Nepal. Currently, Girls Kick has 15 female trainers and six male trainers on their team. And while communities from as far away as Kapilvastu, Nawalparasi and Dhangadi have appreciated the training Girls Kick has imparted, there are still questions over their work and overall mission, says Neupane.

To tackle such queries, Girls Kick has designed a four-step workshop—know the girls, know the techniques, know the laws, and family talk. After a few workshops, Neupane realised the need to also teach girls legal measures, along with physical self-defence techniques. Furthermore, an interactive family component was included, as Neupane believes that change starts at home.

Girls Kick has since expanded outside the Valley to Nawalparasi, Dhangadi and Kapilvastu. Neupane and his team also plan to design workshops for the disabled and set up Girls Kick teams in more districts by next year.

Despite the work of people such as Khayargoli, Prajapati and Neupane, there is still reluctance among family members when it comes to women learning to fight back.

“Even well-educated people question our intention; as if we are on a mission to create a bunch of hooligans,” says Khayargoli. “Once we had requested this man to send his wife to our training session. He refused and later said, ‘Why would I send her to your sessions? I have no intention of getting beaten up by my own wife’.”

Women are taught to avoid walking home alone at night, advised to take well-lit roads if they have to, and ignore catcalling to avoid getting harassed, the instructors say. But young girls across the country continue to get sexually molested, harassed and attacked.

“We are basically teaching them that they are weak and it’s their fault if they get harassed,” says Neupane. “This needs to stop now. If girls need to learn self-defence to feel safe then so be it.”

Published: 10-04-2019 11:10

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