As one month-long festival that celebrates the traditionally valued attributes of femininity came to an end amidst a lot of pomp and show, another aspect of womanhood quietly made its mark on history. The day that Swasthani ended, Chhurim Sherpa was honored by the Guinness Book of World Records for scaling the highest peak of the world twice in a single season. Chhurim had climbed Mt. Everest on May 12 of 2012, and then again on May 19. When asked about the challenges she faced, one would have expected her to speak of the strenuousness of her task, the training she undertook, or perhaps lack of funding. But no, Chhurim spoke of the issue that had troubled her most: there were no toilets. As a woman, this had been her biggest problem during the climb.
Nepal is only just starting to document this kind of latent issues that hinder the progress of women. Such documentation has been common in other parts of the globe. In Madam Curie Complex, a book about famous women in science, Julie Jardines has documented how in the early days of women’s education, many women were discouraged from studying science because science departments did not have women’s bathrooms. In societies just coming out of Victorian segregation, women were often not allowed into lecture halls if the halls did not have separate seats for them. It was impossible for women to achieve success in their chosen fields just by dint of hard work and talent, because they had to go the extra mile, sometimes literally.
Though most buildings today have women’s bathrooms, and women have made substantial progress in academics, the lack of infrastructure continues to plague women in many other fields. For example, female athletes often cannot hone their talents because football, cricket and basketball courts are considered the domain of their male counterparts. Few schools take the trouble of allocating separate times for male and female athletes, let alone providing for separate courts for women. Chhurim’s statement has opened a window into why it is so hard for women who venture into traditionally male domains to achieve success.
Being a pioneer has its benefits. Since there are few women achievers in the traditionally male dominated fields, if you succeed, you are likely to be recognized, as Chhurim has been. You end up becoming a role model for future generations of women, displacing traditional role models of the likes promoted by Swasthani. Instead of listening to an insipid story for an entire month in which a woman who does not worship Swasthani ends up becoming destitute and despised by her family, we need to listen to real women who have struggled to achieve something more worthwhile than a well-kept fast.
In a way, the devotees of Swasthani are similar to Chhurim—fasting for a month and bathing in cold winter waters is physically arduous, like Chhurim’s mountaineering. But while the devotees of Swasthani believe their austerities will bring them wellbeing through divine intervention, Chhurim has no such illusions. Her story is one of struggles and achievements in the here and now. To help future generations achieve even more, instead of repeating pointless stories that offer little insight into contemporary issues, we need to work towards incorporating the insights gained by women like Chhurim in real life