In most Buddhist orders, monks lead prayers and occupy powerful positions, while nuns are assigned the menial jobs of cooking and cleaning for the monks. But in 2008, the leader of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa lineage, His Holiness The Gyalwang Drukpa, the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, changed all that.
The Druk Gawa Khilwa (DGK) nunnery in Katmandu teaches its nuns a mixture of martial arts and meditation as a means of empowering the young women.
The nunnery is now home to about 400 nuns aged 9-42, from Nepal, India, Tibet, and Bhutan.
Last year, five hundred nuns – led by His Holiness himself – completed a 4,000-km (2,485 mile) bicycle trek from Nepal’s Kathmandu to Leh in India with message of women empowerment. The expedition also sought to raise awareness about environmental protection and human trafficking in the remote region.
The nuns are active in the communities where they live, mainly in Nepal and Ladakh, treating sick animals and organizing eye care camps for villagers.
Most importantly, they are now using their martial arts expertise to challenge gender roles in this conservative culture and teach women self-defense, as reports of rapes and sexual assaults rise in India and elsewhere.
Ahmer Khan is a freelance documentary photographer based in Kashmir. He tweets @ahmermkhan