Amidst ongoing protests for equality, restrictive rules still repress women in countries around the world. In Ladakh, India, a group called the Kung Fu Nuns from the Drukpa lineage of Buddhism are teaching girls self-defence classes against rape and crime attacks.

Subverting the historical role of women in Buddhist monasteries – and having, against every rule, mastered martial arts – the Kung Fu Nuns are running workshops to pass on their defence knowledge to young women. The initiative aims to teach a different way of living, straying away from the restrictive customs of their region.

In India, it’s not an easy task to challenge set-in-stone rules in order to re-shape the role of women in society, especially since Buddhist nuns are mostly subordinated to monks and suffer from discriminatory abuse. “The traditional life of nuns is both positive and negative. Doing meditation, recitations, chanting, praying, that is the positive lifestyle,” said the Gyalwang Drukpa, the head of the Drukpa nuns, speaking to News Deeply. “And the negative is to wash the clothes and the dishes and serve the monks. The monks are always superior. I don’t like this idea of having them stuck with that lifestyle.”

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Founder of Live to Love International, a non-profit organisation— born to serve the people of the Himalayas and to improve life in the region— support the self-defence workshops, The leader of the Kung Fu Nuns has, more than a decade ago, reformed the role of the women who join his order. He has encouraged them to engage in labour, exercise and not be afraid to take up what are stereotypically considered as jobs for men. The Drukpa nuns are not only experts in martial arts but are also animal rescuers activists, promoters of equality and providers of medical help and humanitarian action.

With their educational program, the nuns are trying to empower, educate and set an example for other young girls: the training is, in fact, not only meant to teach self-defence skills but also to build confidence and knowledge on sexual assault prevention. The first self-defence workshop is held for Himalayan girls in Ladakh, a region particularly affected by these issues, was purposely aimed at inspiring them to learn to provide for themselves, to acquire knowledge on health, careers and empowerment, to embrace their strength and fully develop their potential.

Images with thanks to the Kung Fu Nuns