4-10 March 2016 #798

Taboo no more

Why is it so difficult for Nepali society to embrace female sexuality?
Ayesha Shakya

Pics: Kaushal Raj Sapkota
A scene from The Vagina Monologues

Over the past few decades, Nepal’s conservative society has grown more mature when talking about sex. More schools are including sex education in their curriculum, and sexual awareness campaigns have been successfully organised in villages, which in turn have helped drastically reduce HIV rates across the country.

Even with such shifts in sexual attitudes, there is still one subject that is rarely spoken about: female sexuality. Left mostly to be discussed within private circles and in hushed tones, women’s sexuality unsettles even the most open-minded and attracts its fair share of judgement and, in some cases, mockery.

Despite the challenges, efforts have been made to remove the taboo surrounding this topic. Last month, Madalenas Nepal, Mandala Theatre’s women’s group, performed the Nepali interpretation of The Vagina Monologues, or Yoni Ka Kathaharu. Based on the iconic play written by Eve Ensler, each monologue tackles issues women face on the matters of sex, love, abuse, female genital mutilation, masturbation and orgasms. As the name suggests, it keeps the vagina in the centre of the discourse as a symbol of female strength and empowerment.

“The Vagina Monologues is not just a play, it’s a process. With the 13 actors, it became a therapeutic experience where we grew confident owning our bodies and talking about it,” says director of the Nepali adaptation, Akanchha Karki. 

Similar to the controversy it stirred back in 1996 when it premiered at the Off Broadway Westside Theatre, this year’s shows in Kathmandu had their fair share of challenges.

“There was a sense of misunderstanding from some of our counterparts that The Vagina Monologues was meant to put men down, that it was about male-bashing. They believed that by talking about female empowerment we were propagating western-influenced anti-men ideologies,” says Karki.

Besides the insecurities, the actors were taunted for talking about topics related to sex and even received condescending remarks on their professionalism. Characteristic of male-dominated societies, some men felt threatened by a group of women embracing their sexuality and talking openly about their experiences.

However, once the performances were staged, the level of animosity from some of their male counterparts decreased. It was also a positive sign that many men came out to support the performances out of genuine interest and curiosity.

“I was interested in learning more about feminism and while no one should expect a paradigm shift regarding how our society sees feminism after the show, The Vagina Monologues was a much needed blow to the patriarchal system we were brought up in,” said Rajan Shrestha.

Movements like The Vagina Monologues act as agents of change that look to bring about a revolution in the way both men and women perceive female sexuality. Even as we fail to change the patriarchal mindset so entrenched in our society, art can play a crucial role in curbing that gap and being a platform for women to talk about themselves freely.

“There is a thin line between vulgarity and sensitively portraying aspects of the female sexuality. If we had performed in a sexual manner, we would probably not have got the same kind of positive reaction from our audience. In a closed society like ours, issues such as these need to be tackled responsibly first,” says Karki.

Madalenas Nepal will have an encore performance at Rato Bangala School Auditorium on 8 March at 4.30pm.

Read also:

Who owns a woman’s body?, Fiona Ledger

Rescue me not, Anjana Rajbhandary

Right fight, International Women's Day Package

Trapped in the Net, Rubeena Mahato

Online violence against women, Sahina Shrestha