The Other Side of Everest

“Human trafficking is the second-most prolific organised crime on the planet after the weapons and the drug trade. But unlike drugs, a woman can be sold more than once and often many times in one day,” Sisterhood of Survivors, Kathmandu, Nepal
IN a pastel pink court building, the colour that little girls all over the world like to wear and a deep shade of irony, less than two per cent of Nepal’s human trafficking cases make up the Supreme Court caseload.
In the country’s District Court rooms, it’s less than 0.3 per cent. But there’s a blinding bullseye, one case that stands out from the rest. In March this year, in Nuwakot’s District Court in the country’s centre, one of Nepal’s sex trafficking ring leaders was sentenced to the nation’s harshest jail penalty in history.
Back in Kathmandu, in a basic brick structure adorned with hope, the women who helped put him away, have barely just begun.
There’s a slow rumble erupting around Nepal…not the kind that Mother Everest likes to display when she’s displeased with too many climbers, nor the type that destroyed Kathmandu in the 2015 earthquake.
This is the thunder of Third World feminism.

The Criminals
On March 23, local politician and Chair of the Dupcheswor Rural Municipality, Sun Bahadur Tamang, was sentenced to 37 years in prison for human trafficking. Two other men, Shukman Lama and Tikaram Tamang, were jailed for 32 and 30 years respectively.
And it was thanks to the women of SASANE, survivors of sex trafficking and slave labour, who filed a case under the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking and Smuggling Act.
Launched 10 years ago with the assistance of a USD25,000 injection from global travel company G Adventures, SASANE rescues women who have been trafficked, and trains them to become paralegals so that they, in turn, can represent other women. Those who don’t have a basic education, are trained in valuable hospitality skills, which they share along with their stories to tourists, under the Sisterhood of Survivors project.
G Adventures Chief Experience Officer Baikuntha Simkhada (BK) says the border between landlocked Nepal and India is 1346 kilometres long, and because of open-border agreements between the two countries, passports are not checked, enabling trafficking.
“Human trafficking is massive in developing countries. In Nepal, when families have more daughters, they sell them to prostitution so the parents can get more money,” he says.
“Parents know certain parts of what happens to their daughters but they don’t know the worst because they hand them over to relatives that they trust.”

The Buyers
The number one market is India, where girls sell for between USD4000-5000. More than 7000 girls a year in Nepal are trafficked and more than 50 a day are trafficked across the Indian border alone. Many of them simply disappear.
“Kathmandu and other major cities of Nepal are the number two market,” BK says.
“The third biggest market is further afield in places like Malaysia and Dubai where girls are sold as ‘house workers’. This the new trick or they are also called Bollywood dancers from Nepal.
“They give lots of false promises. There are lots of illegal prostitution centres here. Sometimes they are rescued by honest customers who report to police.”
BK, who has a 13-year-old daughter, says he has asked “rude questions” of parents who sold their daughters.
“There are a lot of cultural issues around this,” he says.
“The parents didn’t know. They were looking for money. In some societies they don’t talk openly.”

The Statistics
At SASANE, women are fed and cared for, given medical help, and seen by social workers for counselling. Only 10 per cent of survivors file a formal complaint.
Since it was established, 249 women have been trained to become paralegals, offering free-of-charge assistance to other survivors, who they have represented in 400 court cases.
Nepal is considered the epicentre of human trafficking and the issue has only worsened since the 2015 earthquake resulted in more poverty and displacement.
SASANE aims to halt “modern day slavery” with human trafficking estimated to be a USD150 billion a year industry worldwide.
It is the second most prolific organised crime on the planet after the weapons and drug trade. But unlike drugs, a woman can be sold more than once and often many times in one day.
While the average age for a trafficked woman is between 14 and 20, some are as young as 6, with more than 26 per cent of trafficked women classified as children.

The Survivor
Indira Gurung, one of the SASANE’s three founders, can’t remember her age and reaches for her phone to do the calculation. Nor does she want her photo taken. She’s 33, but she lost her childhood and identity a long time ago, when she was sold from her mountain village and trafficked into slave labour in Kathmandu at the age of 13.
“The agent told my parents they would send me to school and after school I would work at their home. They did not send me to school and I had to work morning to night without pay. I worked that way for five to six years,” she says.
“I had a contact with another house and went to the second home. They sent me to school but did not allow me to study and I had to work but I got a high school diploma and got a job in a restaurant and the Nepalese customers abused all the girls here.
“When customers were coming to the restaurant they wanted to do sexual abuse to us. They wanted to sleep with us and forced us to drink alcohol. The restaurant owner pushed us to go with them. They would come into a small room and close the door and force us to sit on the couch.”
After six months of sexual abuse and when she was 19, Indira contacted an organisation who helped her escape.
“At that time, we had a lot of survivors like me and we talked and learned that one cannot fight but a group can fight,” she says.
“We hired a lawyer and learned from him about our legal rights to fight trafficking and other abuse.
“When I got paralegal training, I wanted to fight the restaurant owner but he was not there anymore. He is still free, that is not good.”
Indira, who continues to face threats from human traffickers, says she did not know slavery and trafficking was illegal in Nepal before she learned her basic human rights.
“People are telling us if we share our story no one will respect us but it’s not our fault,” she says.
“Survivors need marketability skills to stand for themselves. Sometimes I am angry at my parents but that is the situation I Nepal. They are also innocent.
“I underwent counselling and art healing to learn about the power of women. This way I became empowered. I realised women have a lot of power to heal and protect other survivors.”

The Solution
Indira says she prefers to inject her energy into lobbying governments, police and stake holders like NGOs.
“We are known now. Before we began our programs, many girls were missing from the mountains, now there are adolescent girls living and working on the mountains,” she says.
“One day we can stop this problem in Nepal. If the traffickers work one time, we should work two times.
“If we expand our program into 77 destinations in Nepal we can stop human trafficking.”

The Future
Each year, through their tourism projects – visitors to SASANE are taught how to make Nepal’s traditional dumpling dish of momos before being served lunch – and other collaborations, SASANE raises a massive USD85,000 to continue its work. But it’s still not enough.
SASANE has plans to open restaurants in Kathmandu’s heavy tourist area of Thamel.
“The message for all of the women in the world is that if you don’t have economic opportunities you cannot survive,” she says.
“If you don’t have skills, you have to sell your body.”
Just before our interview ends, Indira begins to cry, not over the abuse she and other women have survived, but because tour groups such as ours visit SASANE.
“Thank you, you are giving us so much strength. Many people are visiting the mountain (Everest) but not the bottom part of the mountain. We should show their stories,” she says.
“I’m not a tough woman, other women are stronger than me. I’m only trying to do my best.
“I want to be a kind-hearted woman. I just give hope and love.”

To donate to SASANE go to The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures ( and Thai Airways (

Is Chivalry dead?

JUST as hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, it appears Facebook wreaks its wrath when a woman suggests a man should pay for the first date. Well, this is what I experienced last week, anyway. Yes, you could have been forgiven I had suggested we bomb all the boat people, such was the passion with which friends responded to a first-date which, in my opinion, had gone a little wrong.
Now, I am the queen of the first dates, and I have pretty much seen about everything. And yet still, the surprises keep on coming. Last week’s first date was with a lawyer, and for the record, Ladies and Gentleman of the Jury, I’d like to put forward my case of what occurred. Something that is rather difficult to convey in a Facebook post. So, with the permission of the kangaroo court, here’s my account of what happened.
The lawyer found me on my dating site and, after several email conversations which occurred while I was overseas dodging grenades in Bangkok, asked me out for a drink. Let me repeat: he did the asking. He suggested a place and I met him there after work. While it became rapidly apparent that we weren’t a good match (at least to me), never let it be said that I don’t give things a go. He then proceeded to out-drink me (I was driving) three drinks to my every one. But when he also suggested we dine, I agreed. We ate, we talked and then, just as the bill arrived, he excused himself to go to the bathroom. Where he was for a very long time.

Photo courtesy of Mike Larder

Photo courtesy of Mike Larder

When he eventually returned, there was a long, awkward pause, during which I offered to pay for half. To which he rapidly replied: “Oh, very good”. There was no mention, Your Honour, from either party, of his copious drinks. In the spirit of being a decent person (remember the days when we were all just basic decent people?), I offered to give him a lift home, as it had already become apparent that we lived in neighbouring suburbs. However, when I went to pay for the rather large parking bill, the machine kept spitting out my $50 note. The lawyer stood with his hands in his pockets, and watched as I then fumbled in my wallet for my credit card.
I drove him home, he gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek and by the time I had arrived home, he had texted me, saying he would like to see me again. Unfortunately, I did not feel the same. But when I went on Facebook that evening to tell my latest dating tale, something interesting occurred. At first, the crowd was sympathetic, lambasting the lawyer for his tight-fisted approach. But then, the mood changed. One friend accused my behaviour of not being “Goddess-like” (What part of The Global Goddess ever pretends to have it together, I wondered?). Another friend took it further, saying the situation “smacked of desperation”….mine. Ouch. In their defence, and having spoken to them each privately, their comments were out of concern. But to say their words didn’t sting would be lying. The Facebook mood changed again and then the crowd turned on each other.
Such passion prompted me to conduct a survey, of Facebook friends and their friends, to examine this issue in more detail. And here’s what I discovered so far, from 102 respondents:

Almost 60 per cent of people believe a man should pay for the first date, 10 per cent believe he shouldn’t, and a further 30 per cent are divided. Of the 30 per cent who were divided on who should pay, most believed it should be the person who did the inviting or that both parties should split the bill.

The “Should a man pay for the first date” survey, of whom one third of respondents were male and two thirds were female, found the concept of chivalry is far from dead with a whopping 82 percent of respondents believing a man should hold the door open for a woman.
But, in a sign the times are changing, more than 70 per cent of respondents also believed a woman should pay for something else – such parking, cab fare or an after-dinner drink – if the man did pay for the first date – the survey found.

Comments on the survey were colourful and controversial.
“I think it depends on who initiated the date but I would definitely say that it is polite and chivalrous for the man to pay. Call me old fashioned…”
“Not when you are meeting for the first time with someone through a dating site. I think it should be a 50:50 split no matter who initiated contacted (provided one person doesn’t drink like a fish and the other doesn’t drink at all!”)
“The woman should offer, but surely not expected to (pay).”

However, old-fashioned manners are not dead with 50 per cent of respondents believing a phone call was the appropriate follow-up to the first date from a man; 28 per cent believing a text was appropriate; 11 per cent said flowers; and only 1 per cent supported an email as the acceptable post-date response. (Nothing and “other” made up the remaining 10 per cent).

Respondents also believed women should respond quickly to the follow-up and avoid “game playing”. Interestingly, more than 40 per cent believed the man should also pay for the second date, 10 per cent believed it should be the woman, and almost 50 per cent thought it should be both parties. (Nothing and “other” made up the remaining 10 per cent).

Overall, modern dating remained a vexed issue.

“A man should be a gentleman, be open, polite, clean, and interested. No excuses for rudeness or meanness. A first date should be fun and engaging even if you never see the person again you can still be polite and show respect.”
“Broadly speaking, I believe this speculation around ‘1st date etiquette’ is a bit sad. That we need to speculate at all presents an interesting ‘comment’ on the human/dating dilemma. However, given that ‘it is what it is’, I hope for an outcome which indicates respect and generosity of heart – assuming same, make the 15-30 group aware…
“Date as much as possible. Aussie girls don’t go in dates enough. Don’t settle too quickly on a person, think of the dating scene like a box all assorted chocolates?”
“Basic manners are not old- fashioned. There are circumstances such as each party’s financial status to be considered eg: a billionaire male lawyer wooing a lowly paid journalist or a squillionaire female surgeon wooing a uni student but it is generally accepted that whoever initiates the date should pay for it.”

Proving they may know a thing or two about dating, the majority of respondents were either married at 38 per cent; or in a domestic partnership or civil union (18 per cent). Single, but never married respondents (17 per cent); divorcees (14 per cent); separated (7 per cent); and single but cohabitating with a significant other (6 per cent).

The majority of survey respondents were aged 30-45 (38 per cent); followed closely by those aged 45-60 (36 per cent); 18-30 (21 per cent); and just 5 per cent aged 60 and over.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, in closing I simply say this. I am quite happy to pay for my share of the bill, but I would be lying if I said it wouldn’t be “nice” for the man to pay for the first date. I can only speak for myself, but I am looking for a kind and generous man. At the very least, don’t out-drink me, agree to a lift home and don’t even split the parking. It’s mean-spirited and there’s no room in the modern dating world for this.

I rest my case.
To participate in this survey, please go to