International Women's Day: Nepali Christians leading the fight for equality
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Thousands of people yesterday marked the 105th International Women's Day in Lalitpur District, Bagmati Region.
Organised by Catholic leaders and local Jesuit schools, the event brought together scores of civil society leaders, activists, and sports figures, to express solidarity with the work Catholics are doing in promoting core values in the country, including social equality, freedom and women's rights.
Participants gathered in front of St Xavier School. From there, they marched to Patan Durbar Square in Lalitpur City, shouting slogans and waving placards.
In addition to a desire to celebrate International Women's Day, a recent serious incident of violence in the Nepali capital of Kathmandu was high on their minds.
In late February, two men threw acid at two helpless girls as they waited for their classmates. Both were hospitalised with serious burns to the face, chest and legs.
It is not yet clear why they were attacked, but protesters prayed for them and demanded that the unknown attackers be brought to justice as soon as possible.
"In our country, women and girls are not proud because of exploitation and violence perpetrated against them," said Mgr Anthony Sharma, Bishop Emeritus of the Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal, as he addressed the more than 3,000 Catholics, including missionaries, students from a local Catholic school, activists and journalists, who took part in the event.
"We want a Kingdom of God in which women are respected and free to lead a decent life. God has no sex; he is both male and female. The Kingdom of God will guarantee equal rights and freedom for all, men and women, in the same way, "the prelate added. "Each of us, man or woman, came from a mother who gave us life. Motherhood must always be respected."
The prelate explained that he felt a deep shame at media reports of the appalling situation in which women live. Too often, when women discover they are pregnant with a girl, they end up terminating the pregnancy. "We have to stop immediately sex-selective abortion," the bishop insisted. "Sex screening should not be allowed if they harm women".
Women's rights activist Anuradha Koirala was also at the march. She was the 2010CNN Heroes Award, a prize established by the US-basic cable and satellite television channel to honour individuals who make an extraordinary contribution to humanity and their communities.
Through her own work, she has been able to reflect on the exploitative status of women in Nepal. In view of this, she praised Catholics for their support to women's rights through education and awareness raising. She also acknowledged that "Catholic teachings and Jesuit schools have made a fundamental contribution to promoting equality and women's rights in our country".
However, the problem is huge. "Women trafficking to China and South has increased Korea recently. Hundreds of girls are trafficked to China for marriage," she noted. "Hundreds of women are exploited by Islamic people in the Arab countries."
What is worse, "most of the girls are sold by their own relatives, fathers, husbands or sisters," the activist said.
Koirala made an impassioned plea to the authorities, suggesting improvements to the education system, more job opportunities for women and greater gender equality to reduce exploitation.
She also called for tougher penalties for those who violate women's freedom - like life imprisonment and confiscation of all property - instead of the current ten years in prison.
"In every society, we must be vigilant," she added as she thanked the Christian community for its work.