Each year, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is observed all around the world starting from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to 10 December, Human Rights Day. The international campaign originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991.
This year, the overarching theme of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is “Leave No One Behind: End Violence against Women and Girls”— reflect the core principle of the transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
With the observance of the campaign all over the world, stories of women’s violence hit the headlines of media. As I was going through the national e-paper of Nepal, an article covered on lives of ‘Deuki’ caught my attention and astounded me. In far-western villages of Nepal, cultural practices such as Deuki pratha that has root to Devadashi System of India were practiced though it’s in decline now and we have laws against it.
‘Deuki’ is an ancient custom practiced in a rural western part of Nepal, where a young girl is offered to the local temple. Hence, she is called deuki meaning ‘offered to God’.
Isn’t it bizarre? How can one offer girl to the temple? What happens to the girl afterward? Who takes care of her? Why it has to be a girl, not a boy? Still unanswered questions.
Why are girls offered to temple?
Girls become deukis either because their parents offer them in hopes of gaining protection and good favor from the Gods or because their parents sell them to wealthier couples seeking the same holy approval. Poor families who offer up their daughters gain status and approval from their communities from the perceived sacrifice they have made. They are also relieved of the burden of finding husbands for their daughters.
Who takes care of Deuki afterward?
After offering the girls to the temples, neither parents nor couples who bought them provide any financial assistance or have additional contact with deukis. They are considered unfit for marriage and receive no money from those that dedicated them to their temples. Therefore, deukis have to depend on worshipers’ monetary offerings to the temple for a living.
With no income, skills or education, one can imagine the lives of deukis. Further, folkloric conviction that sex with a deuki can cleanse sins and bring good luck, many deukis are driven to survival sex, a form of prostitution in which sex is traded for basic necessities such as food or shelter.
This result in an illegitimate child and no man would take responsibility for the child. In Nepal, citizenship can be acquired only with the father’s line and matrilineal descent remains unrecognized. The children of deukis are often denied Nepali citizenship and cannot become citizens of Nepal. Though a legislative change in 2006 makes it slightly easier for deukis to get citizenship for their children if they can prove that the father is Nepalese, matrilineal descent remains unrecognized.
What can we do?
Deuki is one of the cultural malpractices, I am sure there are hundreds of such untold stories that belittle womanhood and torture girls and women for being the weaker sex. When high-level officials, delegates, state representatives, advocates, women rights actives, and so-called experts meet at the big conferences to discuss the agenda of women’s rights and welfare, excavating issues of women’s of the 21st centuries, the issues of discrimination in the name of culture and discrimination need to be addressed with equal importance. Still, many customary practices and traditions have restricted and violated women’s rights from centuries exacerbating inequality between men and women. Unless we unite to change the discriminatory practices rooted in cultural and traditional norms, the equality between men and women is a far fetch dream.