In many rural areas of Nepal, women and girls are at risk for experiencing discrimination and violence due to patriarchal norms and a lack of support and guidance from family and the community. It was only in 2007 that women under the age of 35 could apply for a passport without their father’s or husband’s permission, but many “male guardianship” rules are still in place. Success for Nepalese women relies heavily on the hearts of the men in their lives.
For sisters Lucky, Nicky, and Dicky Chhetri, the opportunities that they have been able to pursue can be credited to their father, who gave them the support and freedom to choose their own path. He also instilled in them a strong desire to care for the less privileged.
In 1993, the three women were running a restaurant and lodge in Pokhara, a popular tourist destination in Nepal due to its proximity to Himalayan hiking trails. They met women from all over the world, many who shared their bad experiences with the sisters about male hiking guides. These stories inspired the women to do something that was very rare in Nepal: become hiking and trekking guides.
In Nepal, it is extremely difficult for women to become guides, although guiding has been the most popular and sought after profession in the country since exploration of the mountains began in the early 1900s. Years need to be dedicated to learning the craft, and secrets and skills of the trade are usually only passed from father to son. However, the Chhetri sisters had their father on their side, and in 1994, they started the NGO 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, a women’s trekking guide service.
The organization offers a training program to women so that they may learn the necessary skills to become a trekking and hiking guide in the Himalayas, including education, training, English classes, leadership skills, and ultimately independence. Since 1994, over 2,000 women have completed the program, and many have gone on to become guides.
“Whether or not these women go on to become a guide, we feel it is a seed planted for them and future generations. We demonstrate that women are mentally, physically and emotionally as strong as men,” Lucky said.
This empowerment is what professional snowboarder Halina Boyd wishes to capture and inspire the world with in her film Bato, which is Nepalese for “women’s path.” Bato will tell the story of the 3 Sisters Organization and the first generation female mountain guides who run it as they guide Boyd into the Annapurna Sanctuary and Lang Tang Valley to snowboard.
Filming for the documentary will begin in March, although Boyd has already been led for 5 days and 50 miles to the Annapurna base camp by the all-female guiding service. In March, however, she will finally fulfill her lifelong dream of snowboarding the Himalayan mountain range.
Bato will be more than just a documentation of Boyd accomplishing her own goals: it will be a beacon of hope for Nepalese women who feel trapped by patriarchal restrictions. The film will hopefully encourage these women to become self-supportive and independent, regardless of whether they pursue guiding or not.
“Women’s empowerment is human empowerment,” said Boyd. “It creates a ripple effect–starting with one woman, it is passed along to her children, her family and her community. It’s a contagious effect and I hope Bato helps creates those ripples.”
These three sisters are great examples of women who, with the support from their family and community, were able to create a program that helps women and the community.
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