Can trail running empower Nepali women? This project explores this question through an ethnographic study of the Exchange and Empower Program. Established with the help of Salomon-sponsored mountain runner and former Maoist child soldier Mira Rai, the Program provides financial and practical support to talented young women runners from rural Nepal. In addition to running training, the organisation provides English instruction, confidence-building workshops and trekking guide training. The researcher will employ participant-observation fieldwork methods, sharing in the daily routine of training of the Program’s athletes as well as participating in other social and volunteering activities. This project will be a collaborative research project with Exchange and Empower.
Despite much legislation introduced by the post-ceasefire government to tackle sexual and domestic violence, the US State Department reported in 2016 that ‘Early and forced marriage, and rape and domestic violence against women, including dowry-related deaths, remains a serious problem’. In this context, what effects do trail running and the other skills and confidence training provided by Exchange and Empower have on the agency of young Nepali women? Are the women of the Program ‘empowered’? How does Exchange and Empower’s concept of empowerment relate to or clash with pre-existing rural Nepalese notions of female self-realisation, agency and freedom?
This project, moreover, seeks to understand how Nepal’s burgeoning running success is produced. It examines whether and how the barriers created by patriarchy to Nepali young women can be challenged through running, and whether tackling such barriers is a prerequisite to realising rural Nepali women’s athletic potential.