Daily Picture Show

Women Who Broke The Rules In Nepal

  • The Nepalese army killed Gita Rasaili's brother and sister during the country's civil war. Now she is helping victims of violence. "My sister got raped and killed and also my brother as a revenge for feeding the Maoists — according to the perpetrators, the Nepali army. So I had to fight for them. I also want to get justice for other families that have been victims of the war."
    Hide caption
    The Nepalese army killed Gita Rasaili's brother and sister during the country's civil war. Now she is helping victims of violence. "My sister got raped and killed and also my brother as a revenge for feeding the Maoists — according to the perpetrators, the Nepali army. So I had to fight for them. I also want to get justice for other families that have been victims of the war."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Pema Sherpa is the first midwife in the world to regularly use the SonoSite portable ultrasound and has traveled between villages on foot to examine women and deliver prenatal care. "I do a lot of counseling with families and still some men treat women as inferior. Now husbands are coming with their wives in the delivery room so that they can also experience how painful the process is."
    Hide caption
    Pema Sherpa is the first midwife in the world to regularly use the SonoSite portable ultrasound and has traveled between villages on foot to examine women and deliver prenatal care. "I do a lot of counseling with families and still some men treat women as inferior. Now husbands are coming with their wives in the delivery room so that they can also experience how painful the process is."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Charimaya Tamang is the founder of Shakti Samuah, an NGO working against trafficking. Rescued from a brothel in India in 1991, she was the first woman to declare publicly that she was trafficked. "I was 16 years old when I was trafficked. It took me a long time to accept that I was trapped. I was mentally tortured and very frustrated."
    Hide caption
    Charimaya Tamang is the founder of Shakti Samuah, an NGO working against trafficking. Rescued from a brothel in India in 1991, she was the first woman to declare publicly that she was trafficked. "I was 16 years old when I was trafficked. It took me a long time to accept that I was trapped. I was mentally tortured and very frustrated."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Meena Chaudhary is Nepal's first female mahout, or elephant rider. She comes from an illiterate and poor family and now she has become their main source of financial support. "I had no education and no job so I decided to become a mahout. At the beginning it was very hard because I had never been to the jungle before. There are other women who now also want to become Mahouts."
    Hide caption
    Meena Chaudhary is Nepal's first female mahout, or elephant rider. She comes from an illiterate and poor family and now she has become their main source of financial support. "I had no education and no job so I decided to become a mahout. At the beginning it was very hard because I had never been to the jungle before. There are other women who now also want to become Mahouts."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Bhumika Shrestha is the first official transgender member of the Nepali Congress, a major political party. "Even though society didn't accept me, my family did. We don't have a law in Nepal that allows us to marry other people. I could not do it anyway, because if I get married I would have to be under a man, and I like to be in control of my life."
    Hide caption
    Bhumika Shrestha is the first official transgender member of the Nepali Congress, a major political party. "Even though society didn't accept me, my family did. We don't have a law in Nepal that allows us to marry other people. I could not do it anyway, because if I get married I would have to be under a man, and I like to be in control of my life."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Lucky Chhetri is the first Nepali woman to be a mountain guide, and is the founder of 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, a group dedicated to providing female guides to female trekkers in Nepal. "Trekking was a male dominated profession. Now the situation has changed and people recognize our work. Even beauty pageant contestants now ask me to become trekking guides."
    Hide caption
    Lucky Chhetri is the first Nepali woman to be a mountain guide, and is the founder of 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, a group dedicated to providing female guides to female trekkers in Nepal. "Trekking was a male dominated profession. Now the situation has changed and people recognize our work. Even beauty pageant contestants now ask me to become trekking guides."

    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Sareena Rai is the lead singer of punk music group Rai ko Ris. She also teaches music and Jeet Kune Do, a martial art used for self-defense. "People who don't fit in anywhere end up in punk. I sing about sexual abuse, anarchism, caste discrimination, gender identity ... etc. We need more feminists in spirit to make the world a better place to live."
    Hide caption
    Sareena Rai is the lead singer of punk music group Rai ko Ris. She also teaches music and Jeet Kune Do, a martial art used for self-defense. "People who don't fit in anywhere end up in punk. I sing about sexual abuse, anarchism, caste discrimination, gender identity ... etc. We need more feminists in spirit to make the world a better place to live."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Karisma Karki is an Olympic swimmer. She has won 50 gold medals and numerous other awards since she started swimming professionally. The 20-year-old participated in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. "Even today when people see me competing they don't think it's good that I wear a swimsuit, because I show my body."
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    Karisma Karki is an Olympic swimmer. She has won 50 gold medals and numerous other awards since she started swimming professionally. The 20-year-old participated in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. "Even today when people see me competing they don't think it's good that I wear a swimsuit, because I show my body."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Jhamak Ghimire is a poet who writes with her left foot, having been born with cerebral palsy. She had been awarded Nepal's most prestigious literary prize, the Madan Puraskar, for her autobiography Jiwan Kanda Ki Phul. "Power is something that comes from within. I am powerful. I started writing at 7 or 8 years old. At 16 I started writing poems, essays, stories, articles."
    Hide caption
    Jhamak Ghimire is a poet who writes with her left foot, having been born with cerebral palsy. She had been awarded Nepal's most prestigious literary prize, the Madan Puraskar, for her autobiography Jiwan Kanda Ki Phul. "Power is something that comes from within. I am powerful. I started writing at 7 or 8 years old. At 16 I started writing poems, essays, stories, articles."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Indira Ranamagar set up Prisoners Assistance Nepal to help care for children whose parents were in prison. She has been the only woman working inside prisons in Nepal for the past 20 years. "Twenty years ago nobody entered a prison; I opened the door. Even if children committed little crimes I supported them because they deserved a second opportunity."
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    Indira Ranamagar set up Prisoners Assistance Nepal to help care for children whose parents were in prison. She has been the only woman working inside prisons in Nepal for the past 20 years. "Twenty years ago nobody entered a prison; I opened the door. Even if children committed little crimes I supported them because they deserved a second opportunity."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Devi Sunuwar is the first Dalit woman to bring a murder case to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her achievements were covered in the documentary The Sari Soldiers. "I was 21 when I gave birth to Maina. Maina was 15 and half years old when she was killed. I am very angry at the perpetrator of her death. I stand up and fight for the rights of women."
    Hide caption
    Devi Sunuwar is the first Dalit woman to bring a murder case to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her achievements were covered in the documentary The Sari Soldiers. "I was 21 when I gave birth to Maina. Maina was 15 and half years old when she was killed. I am very angry at the perpetrator of her death. I stand up and fight for the rights of women."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
  • Sony Rana is the first Nepali female pilot. She works for Nepal Airlines. "People used to get shocked to see a woman landing a plane in their fields. Fortunately there was no discrimination in my field. In aviation you have to be perfect and not make any distinctions. I would like to give education for every little kid and every women of Nepal."
    Hide caption
    Sony Rana is the first Nepali female pilot. She works for Nepal Airlines. "People used to get shocked to see a woman landing a plane in their fields. Fortunately there was no discrimination in my field. In aviation you have to be perfect and not make any distinctions. I would like to give education for every little kid and every women of Nepal."
    Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo

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Photojournalist Arantxa Cedillo has worked all over Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. But in 2011 she decided to spend a few years in Nepal. She says it interested her because it's a country in constant political turmoil, as well as "one of the most beautiful corners of the world."

While in Kathmandu, she heard numerous stories of discrimination against women and decided to pursue a project focusing on the strong women who had fought back against entrenched sexism there. The women she profiled were the first to break rules in their fields in Nepal — women who now are powerful representatives of change.

Cedillo's portraits cover a wide range of women, including a former sex slave, an elephant trainer, a swimmer, and the first female pilot in the country. Each photo includes a statement from a woman telling a small part of her personal story.

Maiya Bisunkhe was born without her right hand and had to beg for her living. Today she is a promising sprinter. "I don't remember my mother's face. I had to face many struggles on my own when I was little because my father was sick and my brother small." i i

hide captionMaiya Bisunkhe was born without her right hand and had to beg for her living. Today she is a promising sprinter. "I don't remember my mother's face. I had to face many struggles on my own when I was little because my father was sick and my brother small."

Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo
Maiya Bisunkhe was born without her right hand and had to beg for her living. Today she is a promising sprinter. "I don't remember my mother's face. I had to face many struggles on my own when I was little because my father was sick and my brother small."

Maiya Bisunkhe was born without her right hand and had to beg for her living. Today she is a promising sprinter. "I don't remember my mother's face. I had to face many struggles on my own when I was little because my father was sick and my brother small."

Courtesy of Arantxa Cedillo

Cedillo says that finding women to participate was a challenge at first, but once she got started the project grew organically.

"All the women I photographed were very determined to [tell] their stories and hope to bring some positive change," she says.

Instead of a traditional plain backdrop, Cedillo used intricate hand-painted tapestries that are traditional in Nepalese formal portraiture.

"[Those] photographs are always placed in special corners of houses and usually the people wear traditional clothes and display very serious expressions," she said. "I decided to reverse that common form of portraiture, allowing each woman to represent herself, thereby opening a visual debate of what being a woman means in a changing society like Nepal."

Tracking down the backdrops was often as difficult as tracking down her subjects. Cedillo scoured old photo studios for the backdrops, and found that many had been thrown out or given away over the years. With the help of an assistant, she often negotiated to rent them for her shoots.

Cedillo says that the most joyful part of producing her series was getting to meet all of the women.

"They are symbols of resistance, courage and determination in a country that still suffers from repression and where men still have the last word. They have also become my heroes."

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