Hop over the gender gap

There is a debate in behavioural science about which plays a more significant part in determining gender roles: nature or nurture. Most children are raised with gender stereotypes, but are they born with some gender traits? What role does society play in defining what masculinity and femininity mean?

Despite being tied down by patriarchal traditions, education and exposure to the wider world are changing gender perceptions and roles in Nepal. Slowly, rule breakers are becoming the rule.

Ram Kumar Rai, Dancer

"Art is for everyone irrespective of gender. It is about aesthetics.”


Ram Kumar Rai is rare: he is a male kathak teacher. He teaches the classical Indian dance form to young boys and girls in schools across Kathmandu, one of them being Rhythm Dance Academy. Rai commutes in heavy traffic every morning twice a week to Basundhara. He loves teaching dance but enjoys dancing even more: “When I first performed, I believed I attained mokshya.”

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 Born in a village in Bhojpur district in eastern Nepal, where the life's aim of most boys is to join the British or Indian Army, Rai was drawn to art as a child, sitting on his father’s lap while he read the holy books. His father also used to play the madal drum and his children all danced to its rhythm. Rai discovered that he enjoyed dancing, letting his body sway to the beat.

He came to Kathmandu to study, and enrolled at Srijana College of Fine Arts. Rai did not have a male role model while growing up, and despite facing ridicule every step of the way, he pursued his dream to dance.

Aagya Khanal, Stunt Rider

"As female riders, no one discriminates against us. If a man can do it, a woman can too.”

Aagya Khanal, 22, is a stunt rider, a rarity among her male peers. But she is only doing what came naturally to her — she has enjoyed riding motorcycles since childhood.

Still, Khanal never thought she would become a professional until three years ago when she went to a motorbike race and saw women riders doing stunts. She immediately joined the team.

“I was scared when I started. But I used to look at other lady stunt riders and in that way overcame my fear,” she says.

An even bigger hurdle was her parents. “I was in a dilemma whether to tell my parents or not. When I confessed to my brother and sister, even they were concerned about the risks and did not support my choice,” Khanal recalls.

Her parents soon found out what she was up to after seeing photos of their daughter performing stunts. They asked her to stop, but she continued. Eventually, they came around after finding out that people appreciated her skill.

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Diwakar Chhetri, Teacher

"I have never seen teaching as a gendered profession.”

When Diwakar Chhetri became a Grade 8 class teacher at a school in Lalitpur, he did not realise he was the first male class teacher in the junior section. However, gender has never been a concern for Chhetri. He has heard fellow teachers say that men are more qualified to teach higher grades and women are more suited for primary school, but he knows that is an ill-informed stereotype. So is the belief that male teachers are better at science and maths instruction.

Chhetri is passionate about his profession, and he thinks that drive is much more important than whether a teacher is a woman or man. “It is not my personal mission to break gender rules but our patriarchal society has notions about what jobs are for men and which for women.”

Chhetri now teaches lower secondary grades, for students aged 9-13, and believes those are formative years for children because they need guidance, but also the freedom to explore. He says he became a teacher because his role model was his mother, a teacher as well. Some think Chhetri became a school teacher because he could not excel at any other profession, but he says they do not understand the value of the profession, including how important it is to bring up the next generation of citizens to know about their rights and responsibilities.

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Photos and interviews by Jessica Amity

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