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“We know we shouldn’t carry heavy loads but for us it’s compulsory”

In the second instalment from our team, recently returned from Nepal, Kathryn Ramsay from Amnesty’s Gender Programme recalls a meeting with Dalit women in Mugu district.

Hira Devi B.K. is 16 years old and studying in class 6 at school. She was the only teenager among the group of Dalit women we met in Mugu, a remote mountainous district in mid-west Nepal on the second leg of our research visit there. Hira Devi was also recently married – her husband studies in class 10.

The group of 12 Dalit women met us as part of our research into gender discrimination which lies at the root of the factors which lead to Nepali women having an increased risk of uterine prolapse. Early and multiple pregnancies - which frequently follow early marriage - are some of the factors that contribute to the condition.

Sushila Pariyar, aged 36, like many of the women we spoke to, had married when she was very young. She told us that she had already had her first baby by the time she was 16.

Hira Moti B.K., aged 35 said she was forced to get married at 13 and had her first child two years later. ”My now brother-in-law brought a proposal and at first my parents didn’t agree,” she said. “They told him, ‘No, our daughter is very young’. But they came under pressure from my brother-in-law and I had to get married”.

Physical and emotional burdens

The contrast between Mugu and Kailali, the first district we visited, couldn’t be greater. Kailali is hot, flat, with roads to most areas. To get to Mugu you either have to fly to a gravel airstrip on the side of a mountain or walk for 10 days. In the distance, snow-capped mountains emerge periodically from the clouds. Paths, many at impossibly steep gradients, are visible across the mountains, as are the women who constantly walk them, carrying massive, heavy loads supported by a strap around their heads.

Medical experts say that carrying heavy loads during pregnancy and soon after giving birth increases the risk of developing uterine prolapse. The Dalit women we spoke to work as porters – carrying loads of more than 50kg from the airport to the main town of Gamgadhi, (a walk of two to four hours depending on the load) or between the various villages in the area. It’s the only income they have. Many of their husbands are unemployed. Those who do work, said the women, often spend their earnings on alcohol.

Some of the women knew that carrying loads could cause uterine prolapse. Several in the group had experienced the condition or knew women who had it. But with their income dependent on their work as porters, they believe it is impossible for them to do anything to change their exposure to this risk factor. As one woman said: “If we don’t carry heavy loads, where will we get money from? We know we shouldn’t carry heavy loads but for us it’s compulsory.”

From what we heard and saw, it was clear that Amnesty’s forthcoming campaign must not only call for women to have access to information about health, but also address their need to have the power to make changes in their lives.

This work is supported by the Swedish Postcode Lottery (Svenska Postkod Lotteriet).

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Read our team's first post from their trip to Nepal.