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Daniel Lak's report
 real 56k

Sunday, 3 December, 2000, 16:28 GMT
Nepal's women breaking barriers
Member of Sparkle band
Nepal now has its first all women rock band
The BBC's Daniel Lak examines how urban life is changing the fortunes of Nepalese women.

First officer Niru Shreshta is at the controls of a tourist flight over the Nepal Himalayas for the private airline, Buddha Air.

She is Nepal's fifth female pilot and part of a vanguard of women who are challenging traditional attitudes by simply getting a job.

Ms Shreshta was a beauty queen before she got her wings. She was Miss Nepal 1998, a title she says helped her realise her lifelong dream of learning to fly.

Pilot Niru Shreshta
Niru Shreshta is one of five female pilots in Nepal
"The Miss Nepal thing was total luck," she says, between mountain flights.

"And I thought, if I can win this, I can do anything. So I applied for pilot school, graduated, and here I am. There are no barriers if you don't want them to be there."

Passengers and male pilots used to stare when they saw her at the controls, she says, but now even the most hardened Nepalese "flyboy" accepts her as one of the country's best young first officers.

It was harder for Chandramaya Tamang, a 24-year-old mother-of-two from a more humble background than the upper middle class Niru Shreshtra.

Ms Tamang drives one of the electric rickshaws, known as tempos, that ply the streets of Kathmandu. She kept her driver training from her parents, sneaking out of their house to go to school.

Electric rickshaw
Many girls are interested in a career driving electric rickshaws
"They're proud of me now," she says with a smile, "but the babies were young when I started work and they [her parents] were not happy with me."

As her tempo bounces over the potholes and ruts in Kathmandu's busy streets, she no longer attracts much attention.

In fact, about 10 women are driving the three-wheeled vehicles now and they get asked all the time about how to get such a job.

"Schoolgirls are really keen to drive," says Ms Tamang.

"They see the job as kind of a video game, dodging traffic and policemen."

There's no doubt that women in urban areas in Nepal are breaking through barriers in certain fields.

The city traffic police find women make excellent officers; more and more small businesses are run by women.

'Conservative society'

And then there's Sparkle, Nepal's first all woman rock band.

Drummer Uma Raj Bhandari sets a driving beat as the group rehearses songs for its first album, due out early next year.

She put the band together after a male friend laughed at the thought of a female rock drummer.

Until the country people start to admit women into new roles, give them the dignity they deserve, only then will we be able to boast of progress in Nepal

Dr Aruna Uprety
"This is such a conservative society," she says, "No one even thinks that woman can do these things. And they're shocked when we go on stage and play as loud and as well as any male group out there."

Activists who campaign for women's rights are overjoyed that some urban women are breaking old barriers.

Dr Aruna Uprety has fought to improve opportunities for Nepali women for three decades.

"It's good," she says. "Small changes lead to big changes. But until the country people start to admit women into new roles, give them the dignity they deserve, only then will we be able to boast of progress in Nepal."

Rural women
Women in rural areas are increasingly aware of change
A visit to the countryside shows that women in many areas remain trapped in lives of toil and indignity.

Since girls are seen as an economic burden, female children usually aren't educated or even fed as well as boys.

Nepal is one of the only countries in the world where women have a shorter average lifespan than men - something government development programmes are only now beginning to address.

But even in the midst of rural poverty, you find awareness of change.

Shuva Bhujel is a housewife, farm labourer and lately, cheerleader for her counterparts in the city.

Nepalese girls
Girls are seen as an economic burden in the Nepalese countryside
Taking time out from planting the winter wheat crop, she praised the likes of Niru Shreshtra and Chandramaya Tamang.

"It's wonderful that women are pilots, or tempo drivers," she says, leaning on a well-worn hoe.

"Men will find out that their jobs aren't safe from us and they'll have to stop trying to dominate us."

She looks behind her at a 12-year old girl, also breaking up the dry earth to receive the wheat seeds.

"My daughter will have a better life than me, even if she doesn't get to fly planes."

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See also:

08 Nov 99 | South Asia
Nepal's abortion scandal
13 May 99 | South Asia
Nepal's women back democracy
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