Karuna’s Jouney: Story for Women’s History Month – By Suhani Aryal, Original Post by Usha Adhikari

A young girl, Karuna Sunar, was preparing for her 7th grade final exams. After the exams, she would begin her high school the following year. Starting high school would be an exciting moment in her life since new friends and new opportunities would arise. As she was studying for her exams, she had her first period, and everything suddenly changed.

Before her menstruation, Karuna lived a typical life. She was born in Dhulikhel of Kavrepalanchok district and lived with her parents, two brothers, and one sister. Karuna was a responsible student who always enjoyed her courses and went to school with her brother, who was in the same class. Both Karuna and her brother were preparing for the finals; however, it was only her whose life turned upside down.

A period, a normal event in a girl’s life, can be excruciatingly cruel, especially in a community that still observes many archaic practices around mensuration. We have written in the past about such harmful practices.

One of these harmful customs Karuna’s family followed is that girls who have started their first period should not look at the faces of brothers and fathers. The custom meant that Karuna could not see her brother during this time. Since she and her brother were in the same class, Karuna was prevented from going to school to take the final exams. 

The teachers initially said they would arrange the exam later, but later, they were not accommodating. Without the final exams, Karuna could not advance to high school.

As all her friends were studying in 8th grade, she felt ashamed to repeat 7th grade. As she repeated 7th grade, her body was growing and was transforming from a girl to a young woman. During this transformation, Karuna found her body to be disgusting. She felt her body was more mature than her other friends, and she did not want to go to school, fearing that her peers would tease her. Feeling helpless and depressed, she stopped studying altogether. 

A harmful culture in Nepali society forced a girl who excelled in her studies to drop out. After leaving school, her father enrolled her in a vocational training place to learn sewing so that she could make a living. 

After the sewing training, she started working as a tailor. Soon after she started working, she got married at the young age of 18. Before she turned 25, she was a mother of three children. Now, she was taking care of her kids, two nephews whose father had passed away, and an aunt who was suffering from breast cancer. During the peak years of studying and building careers, Karuna cared for the children and all other responsibilities, including cows and buffaloes reared in the house. She began to regret stopping her studies as her desire to read was still there. 

As her children began to grow, she made some time for herself. She joined Shikharapur Open School [school providing adult education, https://shikharapurclc.org/shikharapur-open-school/]. Karuna was invigorated by the second opportunity and passed class 8. Soon, she was preparing for the SE exam (high school exam). Despite not having her husband’s support, she was not deterred. She was happy to get moral support from her kids, who encouraged her to further her studies. Karuna’s desire for learning and betterment is so remarkable that when she hears others speak English, she also longs to speak English. 

Besides her studies, she was very interested in sewing. Even though her husband did not support her, she participated in the sewing program conducted by the Rukmini FoundationAt home, Karuna was taking care of her children, farming, and cancer-stricken aunt. Taking care of all her responsibilities, she still found time for training, where she exhibited that she was better at sewing than anyone else. 

After completing the sewing training sessions, Karuna demonstrated her entrepreneurship skills by tailoring 30 pairs of school uniforms for a local high school, Arunodaya M.V. During this season, Karuna contacted other local schools for tailoring work, earning 20,000 RS per month—a truly remarkable achievement.  

She has sown many dresses for the sisters of the Rukmini Foundation and local student groups. Not only is Karuna hardworking, but she is also charitable, friendly, and kind, like her name. She does not charge for her tailoring work for the many underprivileged girls and helps others in trouble as much as possible.

Now, she is the President of the Women’s Entrepreneurs Group and a member of various women’s cooperatives. When asked about her vision for the Women’s Entrepreneurs Group, she says – “I feel that I will advance this organization well by including as many sewing women as possible so that many people will benefit.”

Editorial Perspective by Suhani Aryal

Karuna’s journey is inspiring and courageous. Her education pathway came to an abrupt stop when her menstruation cycle began. A normal bodily function changed the way society viewed her and caused her to feel depressed and inadequate. The setback she experienced is an event many girls and women can relate to. When girls begin their menstruation cycle, society starts to view them negatively. Due to society’s negative view, girls and women are often shamed for having their menstruation despite it being a normal bodily function. 

In Karuna’s case, she was not allowed to take her final exams due to a custom her family practiced; girls who begin their first menstruation cannot look at their father’s or brother’s faces. She could not advance her education to high school. As Karuna repeated a grade, her body matured, gradually transitioning from a girl to a young woman, and she experienced shame, despair, and worthlessness. She was going through a period of depression and abandoned her studies. She was soon tasked with marriage at the young age of 18 and had to care for her children, nephews, and cancer-bearer aunt before she was even 25. Her responsibilities were overwhelming for a young person to handle.

However, Karuna did not let society define her; she persevered and showed determination. She enrolled at Shikharapur Open School, passed Class 8, and prepared for her SEE Exam. In addition, her exceptional sewing allowed her to support herself and her community. Providing free services to underprivileged girls showcased Karuna’s generosity, compassion, and nobility. Furthermore, she earned a leadership position in many women’s cooperatives, such as the Women’s Entrepreneurs Group. Karuna’s leadership is admirable, showing she is brave, caring, and strong.

She is a true embodiment of empowerment and perseverance. Karuna is a role model who inspires women to pursue their ambitions despite unfavorable circumstances. We are delighted to highlight her during Women’s History Month.

About Suhani Aryal

I am a 16-year-old high school student from Southern California who is interested in robotics and engineering. I enjoy programming for my robotics team and participating in robotics tournaments. When I graduate, I plan to pursue a degree in biotechnology or work in a STEM-related career. I also would like to see more women pursue STEM-related activities and careers.
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