Stella Tamang – Nepal

Linked with Articles for Indigenous Peoples on our blogs.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Stella Tamang (born 1948) is a member of the minority indigenous Lama community and, to boot, a Buddhist woman in the world’s only Hindu kingdom. Her situation has shaped her life and her values, making her a determined advocate for the rights of women, indigenous peoples, and religious minorities. The name of her organization, Milijuli Nepal, means “together”, and that is her message indeed: that diverse groups in society can work together for their respective rights, with mutual toleration, without violence.

It is said about her: Stella Tamang, a Buddhist in a Hindu nation, is a determined advocate for the rights of women, religious minorities, and indigenous groups. Nonviolence is central to her mission.

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Stella Tamang – Nepal

She works for Milijuli Nepal (named on women peacemakers program,
on DEZA.ch, and on UN.org/esa ), and she works also for Bikalpa Gyan Tatha Bikas Kendra Ashram BGTBKA (named on women peacemakers program).

She was always dismayed by the lowly status of women in Nepali society. She was equally moved by the plight of indigenous groups like her own Lama community (and the Tamang community she married into), which lacked access to education and jobs, and were far from the power structure. As a Buddhist in the world’s only Hindu kingdom, she also felt compelled to work for greater mutual respect for diverse religious traditions.

A teacher by training, Stella founded Bhrikuti School in 1975, when she was still a student, with five children from her own locality.

Today, it is a low-fee secondary school with about 900 students. Stella later started Milijuli Nepal (milijuli means “together”), an affiliate of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists based in Thailand, and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation based in the Netherlands. Milijuli’s goal is to work for justice and peace in non-violent ways.

In 1995, Stella founded the Bikalpa Gyan Tatha Bikas Kendra Ashram (BGTBKA, an alternative learning center) to help indigenous girls and women, including from the Stella community, attain education, self-respect, and self-sufficiency.

Through Milijuli, Stella encourages Buddhist monks and youth to spread a pacifist message. In her struggle for equal rights for women, her message has been, “We will protect ourselves, not by defeating anyone but by transforming men.” Storytelling and organizing people are her particular strengths.

The BGTBKA has educated more than 100 girls, who come from the central and western hills and the mountain regions; many belong to marginalized communities such as the Tamang and the Jhangad. Not only do these learning centers empower and educate women, making them employable, they also help reduce the rampant sex trade in women that has devastated so many Nepali homes.

The girls who have studied here are earning money and helping their families; some have returned to their villages to pass on their skills to other girls. A graduate of the BGTBKA program earned Rs 600 a month, running adult literacy classes for three years, and simultaneously pursuing her own studies. This enterprising student-teacher gave prizes to her adult students – a goat one year, some wool the next, five rabbits the third year.

To help children who could not come to the school, Stella developed a mobile school program to reach slum- and street-children, and started classes for children who domestic and factory workers. She also holds literacy classes for women.

Stella has organized several national and international peace camps for girl-children, where girls from all over Asia learnt about women’s rights and non-violent modes of conflict resolution.

Fifty-two girls from 13 countries participate each year in the Asia Regional Peace Camp. Since 1999, 50 girls have also participated in the National Peace Camp at Kathmandu and Dhulikhel. A primary feature of her peace camps is the training they offer in mediation to young women.

Stella has participating in international processes relating to indigenous peoples within the UN system. She was an International Steering Committee member of the NGO Forum for World Conference against Racism in South Africa in 2001, and a member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Coordination Committee for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa in 2002. She was one of the panelists on indigenous women, conflict prevention, and post-conflict peace-building at discussions at the Commission of the Status of Women, organized by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues at the UN headquarters in New York in March 2004 and 2005.

Stella was the chairperson of the Indigenous Women Caucus at the second session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in 2003 and 2004, which took up the issue of mainstreaming indigenous women. As a result, indigenous women became the special theme of the 3rd session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Stella was also the founder-chairperson of the South Asia Indigenous Women’s Forum (2002), which consisted of indigenous women representatives from the SAARC countries, and which works for the consolidation of indigenous women’s strengths for lobbying and advocacy at national, regional, and international levels.

Stella is also the founder and current advisor to the Nepal Stella Women Ghedung (1990), an organization of Stella women. She founded the National Indigenous Women Federation of Nepal in 1999, designed to unite all indigenous women who face common problems of political marginalization, displacement from their ancestral domains, lands and territories, cultural genocide, Hindu religious hegemony, and so on. She wants the issues that affect indigenous women to become part of the larger Nepali women’s movements, and for these women to become visible in the national decision-making processes.

It is remarkable that Stella has made a place for herself in a society where women, particularly indigenous women, do not enjoy normal status. Married to Parshuram, an indigenous activist, Stella lives in Jorpati. Her three children have benefited greatly from her work; her eldest daughter is a peace activist herself. (1000peacewomen).

She writes: … We are mountain people. I am the first person from my tribe to get a formal education. When my parents went to Burma to work in a mine as laborers, they took us and we had the opportunity to go to school. I later went to college and studied literature. It was a challenge because I did not speak the mainstream Nepali language. When I learned English I became aware of how political decisions get made, and that our people were not involved. I also saw how governmental policies and programs were affecting us, and the discrimination that was occurring. The majority of my people were being forced to learn the dominant language and culture, and were not allowed to grow up with their own culture and language. Many people never realize why they are suffering, poor, or mistreated. They take it for granted that that is their way of life … (full interview text).

Participation of indigenous women in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution and post conflict peace.

Stella Tamang was chair of the International Women’s Caucus at the third session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and is the chair of the South Asia Indigenous Women Forum and an advisor of Nepal Tamang Women Ghedung. She founded Bikalpa Gyan Kendra in Nepal to provide an education and contribute to students’ livelihood by combining book learning with practical skills. She also is a member of Cultural Survival’s Program Council. Cultural Survival: The declaration does not have a definition of who is indigenous. How can a state know to whom the rights in the declaration should apply? … (full text).

Nepalese is the official language of Nepal. Nepali, Maithali, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Tamang are other languages spoken on a regular basis in Nepal.

links:

Providing Real-Life Choices for Child Laborers in Nepal;

International Day of the World’s Indigenous People 2007;

IISD.ca;

DURBAN/NGO PROGRAM.

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