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Our Heritage, Our Future: Indigenous Young Woman Breaking Stereotypes and Rising Above Adversity

By Ke Lin (Linka), Movers Envoy and Storyteller of Young Climate Leaders

Every year on 8 March, the International Women’s Day is observed to recognize women’s achievements regardless of their divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.

This year, to inspire inclusion, the story of breaking stereotypes and rising above adversity will give you a glimpse into the life of Sabba Rani Maharjan who is a young Indigenous woman and frontline climate activist on issues related to Indigenous youth communities.

a young indigenous woman speaking on stage at an event

Sabba Rani Maharjan is a member of the Executive Committee of the Asia Indigenous Youth Platform (AIYP), member of the Youth Federation of Indigenous Nationalities in Nepal, and YECAP Fellow.

She is a martial artist, climate change activist, and youth leader, and is not your average young woman. Hailing from the Newar Indigenous group in Kathmandu Valley, she carries the rich heritage of a community that has shaped the city's unique architectural style and thrived as farmers.

Sabba's journey has been riddled with challenges, stemming from her gender and Indigenous identity. From a young age, she faced ridicule for not conforming to society's expectations of femininity due to her passion for martial arts. Moreover, when it came to international opportunities, she was often overlooked. Sabba had to constantly prove herself, but she never shied away from standing up for her beliefs. Winning gold and silver medals in international games served as a triumphant response to those who doubted her capabilities.

Discovering her Indigenous rights was a turning point for Sabba. Like countless other Indigenous individuals, she was unaware of her own ancestral heritage. The lack of education and guidance prevented them from proudly embracing their Indigenous identity. 

Discrimination, a constant companion, cast a shadow over their lives. As Sabba delved deeper into her roots, she witnessed the unfortunate cases of harm inflicted upon her people. Initially, anger consumed her, but gradually, she transformed her perspective, channeling her energy toward positive change from one incident.

The Guthi bill, introduced by the Nepalese government in 2019 to ban the Guthi system, struck a chord with Sabba's community. Dating back to the 5th century BC, the Guthi system held significant religious and cultural value for the Newar community. The Indigenous peoples in the community vehemently opposed the bill, fearing it would erode their heritage and grant excessive control to the government.

Similar to her martial arts journey, Sabba faces a barrage of challenges as a young Indigenous woman in her professional life. Opportunities are scarce, and she must fight tooth and nail to seize them. Even when she does secure an opportunity, she constantly finds herself defending her right to be there, as her work as an activist is entirely voluntary. The perpetual need to prove herself is both exhausting and disheartening.

However, Sabba's martial arts background has instilled in her a sense of persistence and readiness for opportunities. She remains optimistic about the future, firmly believing that youth hold the key to creating a just and sustainable world. Committed to the cause, she collaborates with other young activists, fighting tirelessly for the rights of Indigenous peoples, women, and the environment.

a young indigenous woman giving a presentation on stage

In her pursuit of climate action, Sabba has been part of the YECAP Indigenous Fellowship. Throughout the programme, she had the opportunity to implement climate action knowledge, participate in official events, affiliated activities, and collaborate with other Indigenous fellows. YECAP provides a platform for her to showcase her work on the ground, engage in dialogues, and raise awareness among Asia-Pacific youth about climate issues and solutions.

Sabba's involvement in the YECAP Indigenous Fellowship Programme has not only been instrumental in her journey but it also strengthened her resolve to drive positive change as an Indigenous female youth at the forefront of climate action. Many young women and Indigenous climate leaders like Sabba are empowered to make a lasting impact and inspire others to join the movement for a more sustainable and inclusive world.

Sabba Rani Maharjan's story is one of resilience, perseverance, and unwavering determination. As an Indigenous woman, martial artist, and climate change activist, she defies societal limitations and paves the way for a brighter future. Her journey serves as an inspiration, urging others to embrace their heritage, stand up for their beliefs, and fight for a more inclusive world.


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