Women's rights - how far have we come?

This year’s International Women’s
Day celebrations on 8 March
bookend a milestone in women’s
rights. Soon after, world leaders
will descend on the UN in New York
to take stock of how much they have
achieved in the 20 years since a
historic meeting in Beijing, where
they promised to protect and
promote the rights of women and
girls everywhere. Dr Renu Adhikari
will be among the many activists
there. She tells us what progress
she’s seen over the last two
decades.
I have worked on women’s rights for
the last 24 years in Nepal. I started out
working on trafficking and HIV. I had
met a girl who had been trafficked and
her story made me re-think whether I
should continue being a medical doctor
or do something in women’s rights. At
that time, I had no idea what an NGO
was. Still, in 1991 I created the
Women’s Rehabilitation Centre
(WOREC) out of my passion for
women’s rights.
When I started going out to the
villages, I learned about structural
discrimination and that we needed to
dig deeper into women’s rights. Once, I
met a woman who complained of back
ache at a health camp. When I
examined her, I found a piece of
rubber from a slipper in her vagina. I
pulled it out, and part of her uterus
came out along with puss, blood and
discharge. I was shocked.
She told me her story. She was married
at 13. By 19 she had already been
pregnant four times, including two
miscarriages. By 23 she had uterine
prolapse and her husband had married
another woman. As a single mother
she had to work extra hard. At that
time, no one was talking about uterine
prolapse. This was 23 years ago.
I started to write and talk about the
issue. It was not easy. I was
stigmatized by my fellow doctors who
asked why do you only talk about
the uterus?, but I had a good friend
[and ally], Dr Aruna, and I started
campaigning. I taught women how to
use a ring pessary and also
campaigned on ending gender-based
violence at the community, state and
national levels.