Single women’s drive gaining multiple strengths
The single women’s rights movement that commenced some 25 years ago illustrates how a small group of thoughtful and committed people can change the world.
The movement that was first initiated inside the four walls has already spread its wings across the country, bringing dramatic social and legal changes for single women. This movement is now named as Women for Human Rights (WHR), a single women’s group, a guardian of 1,25,000 single women.
The movement was started as a club, where only a few single women (widows) gathered every Sunday and shared their sorrowful stories and frustrations. The idea was visualised by Lily Thapa following her own hardship and experience being a single woman.
After two years, Thapa realised that their sorrow had been transformed into their strength. The gathering became so large that she decided to give a formal shape to the forum and registered WHR in 1994, said Thapa, founder chair of WHR.
They saw their mission as helping ensure unrestricted lives for single women, who were treated unjustly. Over the past two and half decades, historical, social, cultural and legal changes have been accomplished in the sector.
The movement has helped bring changes in some policies regarding widowhood. For instance, the property widows inherited from their deceased husband need not be returned to their husband’s family after remarriage, they don’t need to reach the age of 35 to inherit their husband’s property and they don’t need to prove her chastity to inherit property.
They no longer need to take permission of the male family member to obtain a passport, she can use her property without the permission of her adult son and unmarried daughter and the age bar of 60 years to widows for getting monthly allowance from government has been removed.
Similarly, the cabinet has approved an emergency fund for single women and has also allocated national budget for the community.
Furthermore, the organisation has been providing legal and financial assistance. There are eight cooperatives run by single women and 14 Chhahari centers, which evolved to be livelihood oriented trainings, said Lily Thapa, founder chair of WHR.
Of all the social and legal changes WHR introduced the Red Colour Movement to reclaim the colour red for widows. This became widely acceptable for bringing consequential transformation in single women’s life.
Going beyond the traditional custom that forces widows to wear the shades of dull colours and mourn the dead of her partner for the rest of their lives, the movement has encouraged thousands of widows of Nepal to wear make-up and embrace bright colours, so that there is no segregation between widows and married women, said Thapa.
The drive was first initiated in 2058 B.S. during the first national workshop of single women. “We had prepared red name cards for all the participants. Though they agreed to wear the card throughout the event, while they were taking the picture, many of them had removed in a fear of being caught by family.”
Later, the drive was launched by Mangala Devi Shrestha, a member of WHR from Bardiya at Tudikhel, where hundreds of single women adorn the red colour in their body and put red mark vermillion powder in forehead, she added.
In the recent years, the people have come to accept blithely what has transpired by the movement, she added.
Bedh Awasti, 37 of Dhangadi was just 19 when her husband lost his life. Losing husband in such a tender age was very traumatic for her. “Because widows can be easily identified by their traditional clothing, I face discrimination and stigma for many years.”
But once she participated in the movement 13 years ago and started to adorn herself with red and other bright colours, this added life to her body and mind, said Awasthi, who is also a Provincial Officer of WHR of Sudurpashcim State.
“The red colour movement has offered me the confidence to live a meaningful life,” said 55-years-old Sunita Pokharel of Balkot.
Her husband died in road accident some 20 years ago. Recalling the past she said, “I have faced discrimination, while attending the social and religious functions. People used to call me cursed one. I was not invited to many social events.”
But this changed in 2011, when she read the news about widows wearing red instead of dull colours. “This has made vast differences in my life. I wear red for my confidence.”
Samjhana (name changed), 33 of Samakhusi started to wear red colours after five years when her husband died of cancer.
“I was already suffering from mental trauma and in addition, people’s wrong attitude has further weakened my confidence. After knowing that I’m single, some of my colleagues and relatives have offered me to have a physical relation.”
To avoid this, she decided to wear bright colours, put red tika on her forehead and bangles. “I gathered this courage because of the red colour campaign. And for me the colour red is a sense of security.”
Women in Nepal dress in shades of dull colours to indicate that they have lost their husbands, while the red colour is traditionally associated to married women.
“Hinduism has never restricted widows from using red. I spent five months in Banaras and did a research in many religious scripts with the help of a professor from Delhi University, our religious script has never talked about such practice and restrictions.”
Such practices were imposed only after the end of Sati pratha in India to make control over their sexuality and mobility, she added. “Everyone has privilege of empowering colours according to their choice.”
She urged for creating environment where women would be given the dignity they deserve, so that no one has to face discrimination based on their marital status.
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