POKHARA, Nepal (AP) — When Lucky, Dicky and Nicky Chettri tried to break into Nepal's male-dominated trekking industry 20 years ago, competitors tried to run them out of business. They say men threatened them, harassed them — even filed bogus police reports against them.
"The men said this is a business for the men and we should leave it alone," said Lucky, the eldest Chettri sister in the 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking Company. "They would even accuse us of trying to take away food from their table."
Now the sisters have a booming business and a waiting list of Nepalese women who want to join their six-month training program for mountain guides.
The rise of the Chettri sisters' business in many ways reflects the increasing clout of women in Nepal, which remains in most ways a deeply patriarchal country.
Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first climbed Mount Everest in 1953, but it was another 40 years before the first Nepali woman reached the peak. Since then, women have made progress in politics, education and business.
About 5 percent of Nepali politicians were female in 1990, but women won a third of the seats in the 2008 parliamentary election. Some discriminatory laws have been changed, including one that allowed only sons to inherit parental property.
Shailee Basnet, who led a 10-member Nepali women's team to Everest in 2008, said the number of women in trekking and mountaineering has risen as well, and she gave credit to the Chettri sisters.
"They have started a trend for women to take up this profession. Women guiding foreign trekkers in the region has become a normal thing now," she said.
The Chettris came up with the idea of opening a woman-run trekking agency when they heard from foreign female travelers who were harassed, even sexually assaulted and threatened by their own male guides while trekking remote mountain trails.
"These girls were really afraid and felt insecure," said Lucky, 48, at their office next to the picturesque Phewa lake.
The sisters once led trips themselves, but had trouble finding more women who knew trekking, spoke English and were willing to spend days walking with the foreigners away from home. Their solution was to bring the women to Pokhara and train them for months.
"At the beginning it was very unusual for the women to join our program because they had to leave their homes for many days, working with Westerners," said Nicky, the youngest of the sisters. "Some thought it was against our culture because women are expected to be at home doing household work."
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