Sakcham – Women Empowerment in Nepal.
The issue of women’s rights is still topical in the Western world today, even in the 21st century. In the world of fashion and photography in particular scandals are becoming more and more common. Whether it’s the alleged sexual escapades of one Terry Richardson or the fact that catwalk and photo models are seen as a commodity and also treated accordingly far too often.
It’s a good enough reason to redress the general cliché. The project to strengthen women’s rights by the international CARE aid organisation seemed to be a suitable platform. An international project that pursues UN Resolutions 1325 & 1820 and aims to strengthen women’s rights in Nepal, Uganda and Ethiopia over a period of three years.
I accompanied a team of journalists and CARE employees to Kathmandu in Nepal on my own initiative. I was supposed to document the project as far as the province in photos, but naturally you cannot avoid noticing the women’s circumstances today and listening to the stories of the old days. I was really shocked by an older woman’s story, who has been washing her husband’s feet every day in the morning and then drinking that washing water her whole life and even still now. I curiously enquired about the sense and purpose of this disgusting tradition and as one might expect, it is to show reverence to the husband. For he is a creature sent by God to take care of the woman, the family and it is an honour for the woman to be allowed to drink this dirty water. By contrast of course, it’s the women who work all day, be it in the home or in the fields, as the men who “take care of the family” spend most of the day stoned in the shade of the trees.
I was totally startled one day when I wanted to take a photo of a woman with a plough in the fields and a man suddenly jumped out at me from the shade of a tree and started running towards me. No, no, no, he called out to me, signalling with exaggerated gestures, telling me that he’s the one who feeds his family and if I’m going to photograph anyone then it should be him…. which I naturally declined of course. When we moved on, I could see how he had laid back down again in the shade while his wife had to work the plough under the blazing sun in temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius.
At the end of my trip though there was another incident that made me very aware of fate. Two days before my flight home, I contracted really serious food poisoning and had to be flown out of the province the day after to the nearest hospital in Kathmandu. During my treatment there I was informed that I should stay there a few days until I felt much better. But as my flight was already booked and it was too complicated to rebook it, I left the hospital at my own risk following long discussions with the consultant. When I returned to Germany the next day, I discovered with horror on the TV at Munich airport that just after my flight home on 25 April 2015 there had been one of the most serious earthquakes in Nepal’s history and more than half of Kathmandu city had been destroyed. If I had followed the doctors’ advice and stayed at the hospital, a far worse fate than “just” food poisoning might have awaited me.