Nepalese women on top of the world
By Elliana Saltalamacchia
A women-owned Nepalese trekking organisation is breaking social barriers by providing work for women in the adventure industry.
In 1998, 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking became the first company in Nepal to provide work for women as professional trekking guides, formerly an exclusively male job.
Founder Lucky Chhetri established the Pokhara-based company with her two sisters, Dicky and Nicky.
The sisters wanted to improve the livelihood of women living in remote villages by offering them employment in the growing Nepalese tourism sector.
Lucky Chhetri said without such opportunities, these women would be confined to their homes their entire lives.
“They learn nothing, they earn nothing, and they have no idea about the outer world,” Ms Chhetri said.
Manu Gurung is a 3 Sisters guide from a small village called Tilche, in western Nepal, where she said women were not seen as equal to men.
Ms Gurung’s father died when she was five, leaving her mother incapable of paying for her education. At age 14, she was arranged to marry by her family before starting work at a hydropower station carrying different materials.
When she was working, she saw trekkers passing through Tilche and developed an interest in the mountains and becoming a guide.
Ms Gurung contacted Lucky Chhetri by phone, who invited her to 3 Sisters.
However, she said many people in her village disapproved of her decision to become a guide.
“My friend told me, ‘You can’t think about this, you forget that you are a woman,’” she said.
“My village people said to me, ‘Don’t go. If you go, our daughters will follow you, and we don’t want to see that.’”
“But I didn’t listen.”
Ms Chhetri said Nepalese people had little trust in her organisation in the beginning because of cultural issues. She said people thought women were incapable of being guides and that they shouldn’t go into the mountains.
But she said her organisation had slowly changed these attitudes and successfully created a new profession for women.
“The culture is developed now. Women can be guides, and that’s the most important thing,” she said.
Ms Chhetri said while gender inequality exists across Nepal, it is particularly pronounced for women working in the adventure industry.
These women need leave their homes for days at a time for treks when they are expected to stay at home.
But among the challenges, success has prevailed. In 2011, Ms Gurung and three other female guides became the first Nepali women to summit Annapurna IV at a peak of 7525m.
Ms Gurung said those in her village who tried to stop her from being a guide now say they want their daughters to be like her.
“They respect me now and understand why I do this,” Ms Gurung said.
“I proved to them what women can do.”
Feature photo (3 Sisters guide rockclimbing) by Elliana Saltalamacchia.