These Kung Fu nuns are redefining what it means to be both a nun and a woman.
If that headline seems crazy to you, that’s because it is, but what’s even crazier is the rate at which young girls are sold in South Asia because their families can’t afford to keep them.
These Buddhist nuns from The Drukpa Order are no strangers to helping out those who are disadvantaged. In fact, their work in the past is how they learned of the dire human trafficking in the remote area. As one 22-year-old nun, Jigme Konchok Lhamo, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation,
“When we were doing relief work in Nepal after the earthquakes last year, we heard how girls from poor families were being sold because their parents could not afford to keep them anymore.”
The women devised a creative plan to help raise awareness for the situation and simultaneously let families know that boys and girls should be valued equally. They decided to cycle through the Himalayas to prove that “women have power and strength like men.”
Konchok Lhamo explained, “We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it’s okay to sell them.”
Women and girls are often sold when social institutions break down and cause rampant homelessness and poverty. The economic discord leads to traffickers taking advantage of orphaned children and desperate parents by buying off the kids or tricking them into bonded labor.
The trek is 2,485 miles long and the 500 participating nuns sport black sweatpants, red jackets and white helmets. They travel through India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet to raise awareness, stimulate conversation, and aid those in need by delivering food and providing medical care.
“Most of the people, when they see us on our bikes, think we are boys,” said 18-year-old nun Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo. “Then they get shocked when we stop and tell them that not only are we girls, but we are also Buddhist nuns,” she said. “I think this helps change their attitudes about women and maybe value them as equals.”
Though some of the regions point to their few women in power, there is still tons of room for improvement in how women are treated. For example, in Pakistan honor killings are still a regular part of the culture. These killings usually occur amongst girls and women and are committed by the family if they believe the woman has dishonored the family in some way. Forced abortions are performed on girl fetuses when the baby’s sex is learned, harming both the mother and killing the child. Child marriage is still common in Nepal, where 41 percent of girls younger than 18 are forced into marriage by their parents.
Many of these horrible practices are often driven by poverty, as girls are seen as a financial burden. Violence is a motivator for women to comply, along with a lack of economic autonomy.
The nuns involved in this trek are often referred to as the “Kung Fu nuns” because of their martial arts training. On top of their defense training and belief in gender equality, they are also advocates for peaceful co-existence and respect for the environment.
Their activities are certainly unorthodox, as traditional Buddhist nuns are not allowed to exercise. However, the Drukpa Order is a progressive group that knows that praying and activism go hand-in-hand if they wish to make a difference in the world. The group has grown from just 30 to 500 members in the last decade.
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