Nepal: Stella Tamang

Stella Tamang, a Buddhist in a Hindu nation, is a determined advocate for the rights of women, religious minorities, and indigenous groups. Nonviolence is central to her mission.

— Stella Tamang

Stella Tamang (born 1948) is a member of the minority indigenous Lama community and, to boot, a Buddhist woman in the world's only Hindu kingdom. Her situation has shaped her life and her values, making her a determined advocate for the rights of women, indigenous peoples, and religious minorities. The name of her organization, Milijuli Nepal, means "together", and that is her message indeed: that diverse groups in society can work together for their respective rights, with mutual toleration, without violence.

Stella Tamang was always dismayed by the lowly status of women in Nepali society. She was equally moved by the plight of indigenous groups like her own Lama community (and the Tamang community she married into), which lacked access to education and jobs and were far from the power structure. As a Buddhist in the world's only Hindu kingdom, she also felt compelled to work for greater mutual respect for diverse religious traditions. Stella founded Bhrikuti School in 1975, when she was a student, with five local children. Today, it is a secondary school with about 900 students. Later, she started Milijuli Nepal to work for justice and peace. In 1995, she founded the Bikalpa Gyan Tatha Bikas Kendra Ashram, an alternative learning center, for indigenous girls and women. Through Milijuli, Stella encourages Buddhist monks and youth to spread a pacifist message. In her struggle for equal rights for women, her message has been: "We will protect ourselves not by defeating anyone but by transforming men." The BGTBKA has educated more than 100 girls, who come from the central and western hills and the mountain regions; many belong to marginalized communities. Not only do these learning centers empower and educate women, making them employable, they also help reduce the rampant sex trade in women. Stella has been following and participating within the UN system, in international processes relating to indigenous peoples. She also tries to unite indigenous women who face political marginalization, displacement from their ancestral domains, lands, and territories, cultural genocide, and Hindu religious hegemony. She wants the issues to become part of the larger Nepali women's movements.

Milijuli Nepal Bikalpa Gyan Tatha Bikas Kendra Ashram (BGTBKA)