The world famous Kung Fu nuns, who have biked thousands of miles through the Himalayas to protest human trafficking and bring attention to global warming, have set their sights on a new mission: helping Himalayan women fight off sexual attackers.
On Aug. 16, the nuns, who belong to the Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, will teach women who live near the Druk Amitabha Mountain Nunnery outside of Kathmandu, Nepal, the skills necessary to defend themselves from would-be attackers.
“Sexual assault is a very big issue in India, and it affects the Himalayas just as much,” said Carrie Lee, president of Live to Love International, a charity that works to improve the quality of life for people living in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, China, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. “It’s a very difficult thing to talk about, still, and the community has been asking for help from the government. They’ve sort of been ignored, and [the government] does a lot of blaming of the victim.”
Related: How to Combat Fear
In 2015, there were 34,651 reported rapes in India, according to numbers released by the National Crime Records Bureau. Due to the shame and stigma involved, advocates believe the number is likely much higher, and there were an additional 82,422 instances of assault, harassment, stalking, and other crimes against women that year. In Nepal, rape is the leading type of violence against women, and continues to climb even as other types of crime go down, according to the Himalayan Times.
Traditionally, nuns have not been allowed to practice martial arts or any other kind of physical activity because of monastic codes. All that changed about a decade ago when His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual leader of the Drukpa school, opened up kung fu training to Buddhist nuns. His goal was to help women empower themselves and find confidence in a patriarchal society that often denies Buddhist nuns the financial stability and education extended to monks.
“After we do kung fu we feel more energy, more confidence,” said Jigme Rigzin, a nun from the Nubra region of Ladakh, India. “Sometimes we [meet other nuns who are] very shy, who don’t say anything. We feel very sad [for them]; we say this is not good. His Holiness always teaches us to say whatever you want.”
The self-defense training is open to women of all religions, and the nuns are ready to accommodate 300 students.
Related: Gender Revisited: Are We There Yet?
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.