Leprosy is one of the most stigmatised diseases in the world, especially when it comes to women. As a result of a lack of education and government empowerment programs, many women's lack of agency can keep them from seeking proper treatment for leprosy early on. Women are twice as likely to suffer from developed disabilities due to leprosy due to being less likely to seek prompt proper medical care when compared to their male counterparts. Women with leprosy are often mistreated within their own households, experiencing physical and mental abuse, isolated further due to familial shame or cultural norms, making independence even more difficult.
Munni was one of ten children and after her leprosy diagnosis, was mistreated even by her own family. Many people view leprosy as a divine punishment or a symptom of poor hygiene and thus hold strong negative judgements upon those affected by the illness.
Decades of having to be ever vigilant over any injury, the constant numbness in her toes, and having suffered a rare form of leprosy reaction, the physical toll alone has been heart-breaking. The only way Munni manages today, is with the help of constant medication.
When Munni finally found love, and married a man from another caste, her mother completely discarded her. At that point Munni briefly wanted to die. Her sister-in laws treated her badly. Within cultures that rely on a system where the man is the sole income provider, women are judged almost entirely on their ability to produce children and support the household. Women with leprosy will struggle to perform their perceived duty and will often by judged by their family and in-laws as a deficient wife.
In, a leprosy diagnosis is a legally adequate reason for divorce. This law is currently in the process of being repealed. Her husband ended up leaving her for another woman after only six months. She felt completely broken and alone. Within Nepal it was found that women were more likely to be abandoned by their partner due to a leprosy diagnosis which further isolates them as divorce degrades a women's statues within society. Due to a societal lack of autonomy, women face an incredibly uphill battle once diagnosed with leprosy and need additional support to reach independence. Thanks to the support of people like you, Munni was able to complete a one-year tailoring course. She is now working as a tailor and receptionist.
“There is not greater joy than living independently alone. “- Munni
Now fully independent, Munni is rarely alone at work. She helps in labelling and packaging when needed and looks after elderly people staying at the old age home there. After all she has gone through personally, she feels inspired to do more work to help the older people in the future.
Munni is very thankful to people like you for giving her a new life.
Written by Alex Zmau