Nepal

Breaking chains of prejudice provides new hope in Nepal

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The caste system in Nepal is the cause of widespread prejudice and exploitation - despite being outlawed.
For women in the low caste badi community, the system has meant an inescapable destiny: prostitution. But, thanks to one woman, who herself broke free from such a life, there is now hope for hundreds of others.

Uma Devi Badi, 40, is head of the local organisation 'Community Support Group'. Herself a badi ex-prostitute, Uma has first hand experience of the treatment of badi women in Nepal. "It was hard at first," she admits. "No one would listen to me. They did not feel it was possible that we could be equal because we are scorned for our livelihoods." But, with the help and support of ActionAid, Uma was able to establish a hostel for 25 badi boys and girls in small, rented premises in Tikapur, western Nepal.

Set back from a small road leading to a paddy field, the brick building with a corrugated roof encapsulates the dreams of a whole community. Inside, books are strewn over the bunk beds and drawings pasted on the walls. Here the children are provided with accommodation throughout the week and are sent to the local school.

The hostel also offers after-school literacy and numeracy programmes so that the children get extra support with their education. One young girl, Reshmi Nepali, 17, has just completed her School Leaving Certificate and enthuses about her experience. "I am happy to be here, I have the opportunity to study and to attend class, otherwise I would have to enter the profession," she says. "In the future, I would like to be a social activist, raising awareness among the poor."

The hostel has been such a success that the badi women have been able to secure funding for a larger building, which is in the process of being built. This new hostel will be owned by the badi community and it is hoped will accommodate up to 100 children when finished.

Thanks to Uma, subsequent generations of badi women are breaking free from the cycle of poverty and prostitution that has plagued them for decades. However, she acknowledges that there is still more work to be done. "As a group we are strong, we face the same struggles and have united in order to overcome them. But there is a long journey before we achieve equal rights. Our children need citizenship papers so that they can receive an education, and we are pressing the government for change."