It’s been three years since my last visit to Nepal, my birth country, and from the moment I stepped off the airplane, I couldn’t help noticing a few significant changes. The first occurred when I was going through immigration, I was mentally preparing myself to fill out the little flimsy forms for non-Nepali nationals, but much to my surprise I was ushered towards some touch-screen machines. Despite having to queue up for a short time to use them, there were only about five of them and one was not in order, I was impressed that the Nepali government had made efforts in speeding up the process of getting through immigration as a foreigner. After the machine scanned and read my passport, instead of having to messily writing out my details to fit inside the annoyingly small forms, I simply tapped out the information required and waited for the machine’s camera to snap a picture of me. It asked me whether the photo was adequate, I looked groggy but I didn’t care, I just wanted to go home.
My father met me after a small delay of waiting to collect my luggage and then we were off home in our car. I was, at once, horrified and delighted at watching the spectacle that is Nepali traffic. It seemed, after three years away, I had forgotten the manic ways of Nepali motorists who drove around as if they always had the right of way on the roads. But then something caught my eye. Amongst the packed cars, trucks, motorbikes and scooters was a tempo and driving it was a woman. Perhaps because we had not lived in Kathmandu before, I hadn’t noticed them in previous visits, but the sight of a female tempo driver was relatively new to me. Seeing her in a kurtha surwal, at the steering wheel of a tempo full of passengers, filled me with pride. You go girl, I thought to myself, go get it.
Having lived in the UK since I was a child, I was very much used to the sight of female drivers and whenever I would come to Nepal, I always found it strange that there were hardly any women driving anything other than a scooter. But with every visit, I’m glad to say that I’ve been seeing more and more female drivers of both private and public transport. Especially since our family now live in Kathmandu, I’ve been able to observe the increase in female tempo drivers. Now, every time I head into the bustling streets of the capital, I notice a female tempo driver, then another one and another one, and yet more! It is empowering to see so many of these women defy gender stereotypes and take on the conventionally male profession of tempo driving. Here are women who are not afraid to go out and do whatever they can to gain independence.
When we finally arrived home after spending, quite literally, hours stuck in Kathmandu’s rush hour traffic, I was exhausted and relieved. Not quite tired enough for sleep, the rest of the evening was spent watching tv. It was then during a commercial break, that I saw a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that excited me about the progression made for women’s rights in Nepal. The said PSA was about sexual harassment on public transport; it was encouraging women to speak out against this unsolicited behaviour. It showed how a young woman got the attention of the whole bus by verbally pointing out her discomfort from a man’s unwanted advances, at which the rest of the passengers joined forces to kick the perpetrator off the bus. The very fact that this kind of PSA was being aired on national tv throughout the country made me realise that things were changing for the better for women in Nepal. Of course, sexual harassment or any kind of harassment faced by women is far from over, here in Nepal and all around the world. But being able to overcome the culture of silence by openly talking about such difficult matters is a good start. Starting conversations about such issues is the right direction to raise awareness and prevent these problems from happening.
In the short amount of time I arrived in the country, I am glad to say that I have been pleasantly surprised and thrilled at the progress Nepal has made in comparison to the last time I was here, three years ago. Sure, there is a lot more work to be done, but Nepal is trying and continuing to take strides towards developing a better future. I look forward to witnessing yet more changes and signs of progression during the rest of my stay in Nepal.