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Nepal

I am drawn to world heritage sites for obvious reasons: not only are they always visually fascinating, their rich cultural heritage makes finding a story easy. The ancient Hindu city of Bhaktapur, whose warm red brick temples, intricately carved wooden windows and sonorous brass bells reached their peak in the fifteenth Century, was no exception. And fortune quickly threw my way Monique Dhaubadel, MBA student from Kathmandu University, who, along with her 3 sisters had been raised as a Hindu woman in this profoundly Hindu city.

Their story is fascinating because it offers a glimpse into a world whose cultural elements contemporary Western women are conditioned to automatically eschew: a world in which men, God's surrogate in the home, are shamelessly coddled from birth, one where women - who are first and foremost mothers - have no control over their reproductive nature, and where their education or lack thereof, is subject to the will, or whim of a father. But is a world in which, as Monica puts it, "women are becoming very clever". Through her I learned that arranged marriages are subject to more negotiation than I had realized and enjoy, moreover, a high success rate. And I learned, too, that women not only often control de facto, the household economy, but are active and successful in the market place as well. And they have turned certain stricture - their monthly confinement when they are considered impure, for example - into a time to rest and to celebrate the company of women.

Within the Rules: The Hindu Women of Bhaktapur, Nepal was published in The World & I in September 2000
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