Nepali Times
Here And There
Sisters are doing it for themselves


One of history's least-learned yet oft-tested lessons is in the American proverb, "the devil makes work for idle hands." Now such phrases sprung up in distant times when gender workshops hadn't made us sexually secular. So there was no need to state the obvious, that the idle hands in question belonged to a young man. Women are never idle, or if they are, the devil-any culture's version-is not interested. Part of female superiority is the apparent inability of most women to wreak capricious havoc simply to pass the time.

Here in Nepal, it should be self evident that idle young men are at the root of many social ills. Stirring political trouble under any party's banner is the exclusive preserve of bored youth, all male, often drunk, and making little or no contribution to the common weal. Even at the extremes, the far left, the vicious, racist right, look closely and you'll find that gender is not an issue; they're all men, and young to boot. Yes, yes, I know all about the infamous Maoist women warriors but how many sit on the Politburo, plotting the attacks, bandhs, bombs and general undermining of Nepali society as it now stands. None, that's how many.

Go to more orthodox parts of the country and watch it all unfold before your eyes. The women, well, it's hard to find them. They're out in the fields ploughing, planting, harvesting, weeding. They're home making meals. They're taking children to health posts or getting them ready for school. And the men, what about them? Well, those people sitting in the sunshine, listening to the radio and debating distant and arcane Kathmandu politics-deep voices, furry cheeks, idle, all of them. Later, the same bunch goes out and spends hard-earned (by women) money on booze and unleashes a volley of domestic violence on the exhausted better half at home. And not just in Nepal. In America, spousal abuse skyrockets on days of major sporting events when men get drunk watching television and women get on with real life.

I've always wondered why this was so, and how we get away with it. Tradition and orthodoxy of whatever religious flavour almost always glorify the male. Perhaps a starting point is the major deities and prophets of religion, all men. Then the notions put about by clergy, again always male in gender and attitude. Women "were created from men, made from Adam's rib". One man's word is worth the witness of four women. Men are "closer to god". Women can't own property or make their own way in the world, ergo they are property, first of their father, then of their husband's family. The gender that makes all the trouble-drinking, whoring, warring, rioting-committing 99 percent of the crimes, is the one that has divine sanction to do so. The all-male priesthood of every major faith on the planet goes out of its way to keep it so. Men not only steal, rape and pillage exclusively, they also pollute, abuse, harass, lie and conceal more than their counterparts across the sexual divide. No wonder they call women "the fairer sex". It's not a reference to appearance, trust me.

So what to do? Well, in richer lands, sisters are doing it for themselves. Slowly, by evolution and creeping infiltration into previously all-male enclaves, women are taking over. I'm not talking here about Margaret Thatcher-she was more of a Benazir Bhutto figure than a clarion call to arms for her fellow women, a lady who married money and then launched a political career, freed from the need to support herself. No, the west (outside of Scandinavia) is still awaiting its first female political leader of substance. But women matter in every other walk of life, and they'll continue to expand their role.

It's happening here in more orthodox, less developed lands too. Forget Ms Bhutto or Ms Gandhi, and look to the anti-globalisation campaigner, Vandana Shiva of India, or the amazing Asma Jehangir of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission. They make their own way, and leave a trail of useless, discarded men behind them, those without the wisdom to follow and learn. We have great sisters in Nepal too, but I won't embarrass them with a mention. They know who they are.

But I'm really worried about all those idle male hands and their ability to wreck what women achieve as they do it for themselves. Maybe we need to make a deal with the devil.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)