6-12 December 2013 #684

Ruby in the rough

A young woman in Nepalganj strives to be a strong role model for others to help them fight the right fight
Mallika Aryal
“Where I come from, violence is so pervasive, it is actually a norm,” says Ruby Khan, 25, as she takes a break from preparing a presentation about her work due the next day.

Ruby grew up in Nepalganj with her three siblings. Her sister got married at 14 and so did a lot of her friends. “By that time I had seen more than a teenager should see: violence, child brides, children giving birth to children, talak, and breaking up of so many families,” she says.

Her father had never seen the inside of a school and didn’t believe in educating girls. Her mother, however, was educated and hid money so that she could send Ruby to school. After her parents’ divorce, young Ruby grew up witnessing the daily struggles of her mother as she tried to rebuild her life. Fearing a similar fate to her peers, she worked hard to stay out of her father’s sight and perform well at school.

At 14, she took up a part-time job at the National Women’s Rights Forum (NWRF) in Nepalganj. As a liaison between survivors, victims, human rights organisations, and law enforcement authorities, Ruby is constantly travelling around on her big motorbike visiting households and communities and is rarely in the office.

“I have worked on horrific cases of domestic violence, rape, and murder.

They make me lose sleep at night,” she explains. But that is precisely why she does the work she does. Says Ruby, “There are so many of us who suffer and so few of us who fight.”

However, as a female human rights activist working in different communities with men and women, she has had to overcome a lot of adversities. When she first started out, her neighbours would call her names. “I have been disgraced and disowned, now they have run out of names to call me and I can finally work in peace,” she admits.

Having worked her way up NWRF, Ruby was elected the general secretary in 2008. She is also a central committee member of the National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders and holds a Master’s degree in sociology from India. But the feisty activist says she is not done studying.

After years of field experience, Ruby is increasingly beginning to understand how policy related issues affect grassroots activism. She now wants to get involved with the education of young Muslim boys and girls in madrasas because she believes changing the attitude towards women at a young age will help tackle a myriad of problems later on. “It’s important to catch them young,” she says with a smile.

However, without the unwavering support of her mother, who taught by example that women can do it all, Ruby would not be where she is today. The passion and dedication with which she works, serve as inspiration for others to continue fighting for what they believe in. But for that women need to be strong. That strength comes in numbers, she says.

Because she has had such a good one, Ruby believes in role models: someone pioneering women can look up to so that they don’t feel alone. “It is still very difficult to be an independent-thinking woman,” she admits. “We need more positive role models, some kind of a support system, or even a sounding board.” Ruby hopes to be for those young women what her mother is to her.

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