“The mothers all look so young here”, observed WRRP Advocacy Officer Dushala Adhikari during a walk we took on our first day in Surkhet together. Glad I am not the only person who thinks so.
Dushala Adhikari, Advocacy Officer, WRRP, on a Walk in Surkhet
After a week and a half in Kathmandu to digest my fieldwork in Lahan, I have now returned to Surkhet District of Nepal for my second visit to this WRRP working area. Thinking back to my first few days in Surkhet in June, I realize that while things in Surkhet are comfortably the same, I am now changed. After two months of immersing myself in Nepal and WRRP’s work, I now view my surroundings with a heightened focus on the status of women and a fierce commitment to fighting against child marriage.
A View of Birendranagar Municipality in Surkhet
Thanks to Dushala’s fearless yet approachable nature and stellar connections, we hit the ground running in Surkhet. After a meeting with the District Health Officer, with whom Dushala has worked previously, Dushala stopped a tiny, teenaged-looking woman with one young child on her back and another by her side to ask for directions as to how we might be able to avoid a flooded portion of the main road.
I stood silently by for a length of time which I thought only to be long enough for the Nepali speakers to discuss our path around the flood and engage in some casual small talk. As we parted ways from the tiny, local woman, Dushala informed me that she had extracted that the woman was 21 years old, had married at the age of 13 or 14, and had developed uterine prolapse after giving birth to her first child at the age of 18. Oh yes, and we now had plans for the next day to visit this woman’s home and speak with her some more.
“Do you know that woman?”, I asked Dushala in baffled amazement.
“Not before today.” Dushala explained that this woman had just looked so young to be carrying around two children so she started asking some questions. Excellent; I’m sticking with Dushala.
The next day, I started the meeting with our new friend, Renu*, with much excitement: child marriage, uterine prolapse, everything that I am focusing on just falling into my lap!
I finished the meeting, however, with a nauseating pit growing in my stomach and anger swelling in my chest. Renu had so much more to tell us than a tale of familial pressure to marry early and a prolapsed uterus. Renu’s husband may or may not be the devil incarnate. Renu’s husband is abusive toward her. Regularly. Humiliatingly. Physically, sexually, emotionally. On one occasion, triggered by Renu visiting with a friend of a caste that was “beneath” them, Renu’s husband repeatedly kicked her – in the face, making her nose bleed – took her to the toilet and made her eat his feces, and “violated her many times”.
For this violence, Renu’s husband spent one day in jail, released upon the penning of his signature to the tune of “I won’t do it again”.
Renu, 21, Surkhet
“I know what are the causes of my uterine prolapse”, Renu said to Dushala and me. “I married early, I had a child early, and many times, including as soon as the third day after giving birth to my first child, my husband would come home drunk and forcefully have sex with me.” Yeparoo.
Renu told us that she has thought about leaving her husband, but that she never wants to get married again: “all men are the same”, she declared.
Renu, 21, with her two young children