What comes to mind when you hear the word “nun?” If you’re like me, you think of The Sound of Music or Miss Clavel from the Madeline series — but you almost certainly don’t think of the Nepalese nuns of the Drupka Order. Thankfully, that’s all about to change — these badass nuns are gaining widespread media attention for their bicycle yatra, a nearly 2,500-mile pilgrimage from the Amitabha Drukpa Nunnery in Kathmandu to the town of Leh in northern India protesting the increase in human trafficking that has plagued Nepal and neighboring nations since last April’s devastating earthquake.
A New York Times profile of the nuns reports that in the three-month time span following the quake, 725 Nepalese people were kidnapped by human traffickers, with some being forced into prostitution. The Nepalese government, overwhelmed by the recent disaster, has been unable to provide much aid. That’s where the nuns come in — they hope their pilgrimage will spread awareness of the issue and combat the notion that it’s acceptable to buy and sell girls. 22-year-old nun Jigme Konchok Lhamo explained to Reuters, "When we were doing relief work in Nepal after the earthquakes last year, we heard how girls from poor families were being sold because their parents could not afford to keep them anymore. We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it's okay to sell them." She also told Reuters that the bicycle pilgrimage demonstrates that “women have power and strength like men."
This message of female empowerment has not always been a part of the Drupka Order, as president Carrie Lee of Live to Love International explains to Reuters: "Traditionally Buddhist nuns are treated very differently from monks. They cook and clean and are not allowed to exercise.” That all changed when The Gyalwang Drupka assumed leadership of the Drupka Order. “He gave them leadership roles and even introduced Kung Fu classes for the nuns after they faced harassment and violence from the general public who were disturbed by the growing shift of power dynamics." He has also pushed for the nuns to study Buddhist teachings (before this, religious study was an activity considered appropriate only for monks). These important changes have been met with enthusiasm. Under The Gyalwang Drupka’s guidance, the number of Drupka Order nuns has increased more than fifteenfold.
“We are spreading these messages: girls also have power, they are not weak,” nun Yeshe Lhamo explains to the New York Times. “In these regions, they listen to and respect religious teachings, so for a religious person to say that diversity and equality is important, maybe people can make this their spiritual practice too.” Feminism as a part of spiritual practice! We hope these nuns keep kicking ass.
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