While women in the West enjoy the freedoms of equal pay, equal opportunity and the right to vote, in places like Nepal, women still experience oppression and subjugation. In Nepal, a shocking 90 per cent of women suffer abuse at the hands of their fathers and husbands.
Buddhist nun Ani Choying Drolma has dedicated her life to ending the deeply entrenched gender discrimination. Under her umbrella Nuns Welfare Foundation sit 15 projects, including a school, Nepal’s first female instrumental band, a safe haven for elderly women and abandoned mothers, a refuge for street dogs and a kidney hospital.
Ani Choying is an extraordinary woman by anyone’s measure. She is gifted with a beautiful singing voice and recordings of her music have made her an unlikely pop star in Asia and Europe, with all monies raised going to her charities. Of herself she says, ‘My core is molten lava, a ball of indestructible molecules. Today this core of brute will is my trusted ally. Once it might have led to my downfall [but] I am a tamed tiger. Domesticated, but essentially forever wild.’
Nepal is not an easy place to be a woman. There, women have no autonomy. They are still under the directive of their husbands and fathers.
‘In Nepal you have to ask your father or your husband to do something; you have no rights at all. New policies are being developed, but of course the lack of education in Nepal is caused by the poverty. When they have the possibility to send someone to school, it’s the boys, not the girls.
‘There is a tradition that girls at a very early age get married. This is against the law but this is still carried down not as popularly as it used to be but it is still there as many people are still very ignorant because of their lack of education.’
Ani Choying herself has a fifth-grade education. Although this is surprising, as her English is perfect, she is delightfully funny, and informed. She is a self-educated woman. ‘I brought my books to the nunnery – I got wonderful spiritual education there, but academically not very much.’
Even the religious orders are plagued by sexism, where monks may have access to academic study, but nuns do not.
‘We have a lot of monks – men are men and I would say they are intentionally practising this kind of discrimination. It’s not just the men, it’s by the women as well, because they accept it and they behave that way. For example, my mum made me work and take care of my siblings, but she never expected the boys to do it.’
Unlike many women in Nepal who are beaten down by a culture of subservience, Ani Choying rose up.
‘Women are emotionally very strong and they are able to take so much discrimination and so much disrespect and oppression, they are so able to take it but none of us wish to suffer in our life. We wish to be loved.’
While agencies and organisations have started to make ground, real change Ani Choying believes starts in the home.
‘Nowadays a lot of NGOs are coming up against domestic violence. Of course the men agree that women should not be discriminated against and they should have equal rights and equal participation in decision-making in local government and at a national level, but implementation is very, very slow. It has to be started at home.’
It was Ani Choying’s voice that reached out both politically and spiritually to send a message.
‘The spiritual singing has been part of my monastic way of life because every day we have to engage in ritual ceremonies, and they are done meditatively and melodiously. Seeing as I am blessed with an ability to sing them more beautifully, my teacher gave me more responsibility to lead.
‘An American called Steve Tibbets came up with idea to collaborate with guitar, and when he asked to record, I thought it was like for other people to learn the songs. Later I realised it was all about coming up with an album, and that was received and enjoyed very well by the listeners and slowly I was invited to give live performance and then from those concerts I received money and that money made me feel good because I saw myself being able to fulfill my dreams. That gave me courage and clear vision of what I wanted to do in my life, so I didn’t think twice.
‘I strongly believe that we are all blessed with a magic wand. My magic wand is ability to sing, and everyone has a different ability – that is how we create miracles in our own lives and in other lives.’
Ani Choying Drolma is currently touring Australian capital cities. She makes a very special appearance at the Byron Community Centre on Tuesday November 13. Tickets at the venue. See more at http://choying.com.au.