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The Saviour – Menuka Thapa
Despite the increase in political and social activism around women’s issues, gender discrimination and inequality continue to exist in every sphere of life–social, political and economical. Having witnessed the mistreatment of women closely, activist Menuka Thapa has dedicated her life to put an end to violence against women.
As the founder of Raksha Nepal, Thapa protects and rescues trafficked and abused victims in brothels and entertainment sectors. Currently, she has given refuge to around 65 children who were victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Born in Kavre, Thapa is the ninth child in her family. Her journey is filled with many hardships. Her father passed away when she was in her mother’s womb. Society blamed her as the cause of his death. Furthermore, her mother was forced out of the house.
“My mother was uneducated and unemployed, yet she would always protect us. She taught us to stand on our feet, always speak the truth, and be the voice for the voiceless. Most importantly she taught us never to be ashamed of being a woman in a man’s world,” Thapa recalls.
Despite the effort from Thapa’s mother, the family faced financial crisis. They were not able to pay for even the basics. Therefore, education became a luxury which they were not able to afford and Thapa could not continue her studies. After a few years, Thapa’s mother passed away. When she approached her relatives for shelter, she was rejected. “I was left all alone and homeless. I didn’t have anyone to even feed me,” she reveals. She went to various social organisations requesting for help, but was repeatedly refused.
As Thapa had a good voice, she decided to work at a Dohori restaurant as a singer. This she did for six years. However she did not only lend her voice to the microphone but raised her voice against all those who were mistreated. She witnessed many of women being abused and sexually exploited. She gathered them to discuss their issues and encouraged them to confront the restaurant’s owners and even helped to get their salary on time.
This initiation propelled her to open an organisation to empower women who were being abused and forced into commercial sex. In 2004, Raksha Nepal was established with the aim to better the lives of women in the country.
THE FIGHT CONTINUES
Even after starting Raksha Nepal, the challenges continued for Thapa. From life-threats by traffickers to lack of funding, Thapa continues to face hurdles in her path.
“Sometimes we do not have sufficient budget to provide adequate shelter and food since we do not have big donors. There is also a lack of trust in NGOs. People tend to be skeptical as to about our work. Further, it’s disheartening when society starts to blame victims rather than perpetrators. Although we rescue them, they can’t move forward with their life due to society’s lack of understanding,” Thapa reveals.
Thapa also gets judged for her personal life choices. As a 36 year old unmarried woman, her friends and family criticise her. She says that her dream is not to be a wife but to devote her life to better the society. “Who knows, maybe I’ll be married when I’ am 60 years old!” she states.
Regardless of the judgement and opposition, she feels that her struggles are all worth it when she sees the smiles on the girls’ faces.
TIME FOR CHANGE
“Sex education should be taught from the first grade so that children are aware of how their body functions from a young age,” Thapa opines.
She urges that in order to terminate all forms of injustice against women, the Nepali government must be strengthened. She asserts that once Nepal has a visionary and knowledgeable leader, s/he can implement policies and educate people to minimise and maybe even eradicate rape and human trafficking.
“Every year, children come to Raksha Nepal to seek help. I don’t want to see more people being sexually abused,” she concludes.