Asian Paints
HEROINES: Nepal’s rural female health volunteers are at the forefront of protecting children and mothers and informing women about reproductive health. Pic: UNFPA Nepal

I am the daughter of a formidable campaigner for women’s reproductive rights in Nepal. Decades ago, when such issues were not part of the playbook for development activists, my mother, a medical doctor, started setting up family planning programs after seeing women die in childbirth, shifting from hospital work into public health.

She established health posts for maternal and infant care. She fought for the reproductive rights of women and girls including access to contraception and comprehensive sexuality education. And most important, she instituted a network of female health workers all over Nepal.

For a woman raised at a time when it was unusual for girls to be educated, my mother has travelled long distances. Not only did she fight for Nepali women to have a choice, but she ensured that her two daughters had the same privilege.

I am myself now the mother of a daughter, who will soon enter adulthood.  She will then make her own decisions, including about her reproductive choices. My daughter is an Irish national. 

So I spent the weekend of 26 May, during the Irish referendum on abortion rights, vacillating between crying with joy in one moment, and overwhelmed with anxiety about the outcome at another. My colleague Aisling Reidy, who is Irish, wrote movingly about her own experience of emotion and exhilaration that weekend. And about the need for other countries to move toward that arc of justice for girls and women.

Many Irish women and men travelled back to Ireland to cast their yes votes. The hashtag #HomeToVote was trending on Twitter that weekend. The resolve to give women rights over their bodies was quite incredible.

I write this not only because I care about my daughter’s rights. I write because the rights of so many women and girls in Ireland will hopefully change as a result of this vote. But above all, I write this also because it is occasion to be proud of my own country.

Nepal, often in the news because of its urgent development needs, was, on this crucial issue, ahead of many of its neighbouring countries, decriminalising abortion in 2002.

Women who had been imprisoned for abortion were released. Women today who want to exercise their choice over their bodies can legally do so, without restriction and with access to safe health care. Much remains to be done in Nepal, however, to ensure that those rights are available to all girls and women, regardless of financial or geographical situations.

But today I celebrate my Nepali mother. And I rejoice for my Irish daughter.

Tejshree Thapa is a senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Recommended