2014: Rita Mahato
“I was married off when I was in fifth grade. I would have wanted to stay in school, but my parents had an old-fashioned way of thinking.”
Rita Mahato from Nepal was awarded the 2014 Per Anger Prize for her fearless and persistent struggle against sexual violence aimed at women.
In Nepal, tradition dictates that a girl should be married off early, preferably before puberty, since this supposedly brings favor with God. This is why Rita was forced to marry and move in with her husband’s family. She gave birth to a son the following year, and later also two girls. In her new family, she was treated very badly, forced to work hard, beaten and poorly fed.
Interview with Rita Mahato
– I had to endure so much hate and scorn. I still have scars on my arm after being beaten by my husband’s family.
Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries, even though efforts to decrease poverty are moving in the right direction, according to the UN. Living conditions are worse in rural areas than in cities, and there are large inequalities between women and men. Violence, forced labour and exploitation of women and children are serious problems.
One day two visitors came to Rita’s village. They were employees of the organisation WOREC, Women’s Rehabilitation Center, which provides support for women who are exposed to violence and helps them become aware of their rights. Rita invited the visitors into her home and told them about her experiences. This led to her receiving some education, and since 2005 she works as a health advisor for women. Her husband has supported her in this work, even though his family has opposed it.
- When I started working for WOREC, I understood that nobody should have to put up with violence. I started discussion groups with women and it became clear that polygamy and violence are everywhere.
Rita Mahato tours the villages of her district on bike, tens of miles each day, to organise and inform women. Many times, this is dangerous work.
- Once I learned that a 40-year-old man had raped an eight-year-old girl in a village. I decided to bring attention to this incident and filed a formal report. The man was arrested and detained. As a result, me and my whole family received death threats.
Are you scared?
- I am very scared. But nobody lives forever and I want to accomplish something before I die. I carry on working even if I risk dying on the job.
But it is sometimes hard to constantly work for others
- When it is hard I feel like a candle, always burning for others while I myself sit in the dark. In front of other people I talk and laugh and hold back the tears. Then I go to the side and cry.
Rita Mahato has big plans for the future. She wants to start some sort of activity for older women.
- The women work hard for their sons, who get their education, marry and move to Kathmandu or another part of the country. Who takes care of the old mother? There should be a refuge for them, a place where they can be well cared for. That’s something I want to pursue.
Where do you get the energy to carry on?
- There are many women in Nepal who have been mistreated like me. But the support I get, both from national and international NGOs, gives me strength to endure, and encouragement to work even more.
What does it mean for you to receive the Per Anger Prize?
- It is amazing, I am so happy for it, so enormously happy. Even my family and my relatives are happy. In my village, perhaps 20 percent are happy for me and the rest are jealous. That’s the way it is. But the prize encourages me to achieve even more.
What would you want to say to young people who hear your story?
- I would like to thank them for listening to my story. Now they know that women in Nepal suffer in this way, and one day they can come to Nepal and help in our work there.
The Living History Forum wishes to note that these interviews are based on the personal testimonies of the prize winners. It is not an objective, factual account by the authorities.
Rita Mahato works as a representative for the human rights organisation Women’s Rehabilitation Center (WOREC) in south-eastern Nepal, close to the border to India.
Rita Mahato was awarded the Per Anger Prize for 2014 and was nominated by Amnesty International.
The citation of the jury
The Per Anger Prize for 2014 is awarded the Nepalese human rights activist Rita Mahato for her tenacious struggle against sexual violence aimed at women and girls in a patriarchal, violent and socially vulnerable society. In spite of her and her family being the targets of a constant stream of grave threats, she continues the fight to strengthen the human rights of Nepal’s women.
The Living History Forum works with schools to engage students in issues of human rights.