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|From Intention to Action|
From Intention to Action
Following through on a $50 impulse
By Jeffrey Kottler
I first went to Nepal seven years ago. After taking four planes, a bus, a truck, and an hour's walk, I found myself in a remote village in the Chitwan District, near the Indian border. I'd gone there to do research on maternal mortality with Kiran Regmi, then a Nepali doctoral student of mine, who worked as an obstetrician in rural districts near the Indian border. She's one of the few female physicians in her country, and one of the few doctors who practice outside of Kathmandu, Nepal's capital.
As part of our research, we were interviewing new mothers about their childbirth experiences, trying to figure out why women didn't seek medical service even when it was available (90 percent of the population has no access to professional healthcare), and why Nepal has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. We soon learned that part of the reason was the frightening and humiliating experiences the lower-caste women we interviewed had endured at the medical facilities, which they'd often journeyed several days to reach. They told us that "snakes" had been put in their arms—intravenous tubes that were never explained—and the doctors, all men, shamed them by touching their private parts. They declared that they'd rather die than face such an ordeal again. They warned other women of the village never to go to those bad places, where they'd been treated like animals.
We learned that other women having difficult pregnancies who desperately wanted to seek medical care were often forbidden to do so. It took a bit of probing to find out what was going on: their mothers-in-law believed that difficult labor indicated that the pregnant women had done something to anger the gods, and it would be best if their daughters-in-law died so their sons could find stronger, less troublesome wives.
During these interviews, I learned something else that came as an even ruder shock to my Western sensitivities: I began to hear about girls who were disappearing from the villages, although nobody could tell me where they went or why they were gone. It took some digging before I learned that many families couldn't afford to feed and educate all their children (the average income in Nepal is $210 per year), so they'd sell their girls to "employers" who promised good jobs in India. I was never sure whether the parents realized that most of these girls, some as young as 9 years old, ended up in brothels in Mumbai. It seems that HIV-positive men believe that having sex with a virgin will cure them. After the girls were infected, they'd typically be sent back to their villages, where they'd spread the disease. It's estimated that this is the fate of more than 7,000 girls each year in Nepal.