Hundreds of women from the Badhi community, a community traditionally engaged in the sex trade in some mid-west and mid-hill districts of Nepal, are looking for alternative work. Led by Safe Nepal, an NGO that works with the community, and the Central Badhi Women's Samanwaya Committee, more than 200 women from the Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchanpur and Dang have signed a paper renouncing the sex trade. The signature campaign continues.
In addition to this, fewer young Badhi women are entering the sex trade as NGOs including SAFE have set up hostels where they can stay and study instead. So far, 350 Badhi girls are studying in four hostels in Nepalganj, Rajapur, Lamki, and Ghorahi, and a primary school for Badhi girls is being run in Nepalganj. Five Badhi girls from these schools are currently pursuing higher studies at the Mahendra Bahumukhi Campus in Nepalganj. One of the girls, Ram Kumari, has not only married and set up house, she also teaches children from her community. Five years ago, she attended the international children's conference organised by UNICEF in New York.
During the last decade, Badhi women have begun leaving the sex trade due to growing social awareness as well as the AIDS scare. They have gotten organised and asked the state for assistance that will help them lead better lives. Their demands include the provision of employment opportunities depending on their abilities, skills-training to ensure alternative employment, and credit schemes. They have also asked for reservations in the public and private sectors, free higher education, and citizenship for children born to women in the sex trade. Recently, 100 Badhi girl students from Dang held a silent procession to stir up public support for their demands.
The Badhi Women's Samanwaya Committee has set up branches around Banke, Bardiya, Dang, Kailali, and Surkhet, but women involved in the campaign have been affected by the emergency. Due to security problems it has become difficult to travel through the villages. Shaguni Nepali, the coordinator of the committee, says the group's main focus is to encouraging women to marry after they receive skills-training. Depending on their abilities, the committee also tries to organise jobs for women in NGOs, private industry, and government offices.
Badhi women are discriminated against socially and legally. Their children don't get birth certificates-statistics show that there are at least 300 unregistered Badhi children. Government officials say they cannot issue the certificates without the father's name. As a result, over 60 percent of Badhi youth
don't possess citizenship certificates either.
The community's economic status is also pathetic. According to a survey of 232 Badhi families conducted by Action Aid two years ago, only two families have more than seven bighas of land, four families own four-six bighas, and five families own one-five katthas. One hundred and twelve families have less than a kattha, and 109 families own no land.