Localization of Women Empowerment agenda– rural context of Nepal

With a limited travel portfolio- I always seek ways to travel not because it is only fun, but a practical way of learning how development agenda travels from International Level to Regional to National to Local. This time, I was excited to observe systematically how the agenda of ‘women empowerment’ has travelled across rural settings of Nepal and how WPD-Nepal is implementing programs at ground level.  Nepal, also known as country of villages is gradually getting into periphery of (Sub) Municipalities converting villages to peri-urban areas.

I visited villages in Makawanpur district last December with WPD Nepal and OCIC team members.

Now my systematic observation lens initiated while exploring the communities in Makawanpur where I could potentially see implemented arrangement of Women Empowerment agenda in rural context. WPD Nepal in support of World Accord has been working in five communities; Paarijat and Newarpani in Basamadi VDC, Phulbari, Chisapani and Makari in Hadikhola VDC in the district since last five years.

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Makawanpur District Map (Source: Local Governance and Community Development Program)

Since 2010, the founder of WPD Nepal Ms. Shobha Pradhan Shrestha could observe gradual changes in the women in those villages. Interestingly women- whose population is higher than male population as per Central Bureau of Statistics could not even sign and write their names- hence now have their own small-scale business. The transformation from dependent wives has now shifted to entrepreneurs where the male counterparts have temporarily migrated for job abroad requiring demanding debt and higher interesting rates. Ms. Shrestha has been implementing programs in these communities at the level of women’s groups formation, providing them various participatory training programs and establishing group seed fund that is providing specific loan to group members leading to become self-independent with the fund provided by #WorldAccord to empower marginalized and indigenous Nepalese women of the respective communities.

Except Chisapani women’s group, all three groups- Shanantaaar, Newarpani and Makari were formed five years before. Parijat Women’s group in Shanantaar has about thirty women in the group. All of those women are literate; they can write their names and keep record of their loans form the group fund. They have their own business now.

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Bimala Nepali from Paarijat Group, owns a tailor shop
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Poonam Ghale from Paarijat Women Group, owns a restaurant

Some of the small-scale enterprises differ as vegetable farming, animal husbandry, poultry, restaurant and a tailor shop. The vicious cycle of dependency on male counterparts has now reduced and even women are seen helping their families at times of adversity. Even at times, able to finance the education for their child- that is helping built up human capital in these local communities. I was equally glad and perceived the sense of real women empowerment that WPD Nepal has promoted.

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Babita Luitel from Phulbari Women Group, has her own poultry farm, mushroom farm and vegetable farm

The deep-rooted caste discrimination was not visible after group formation. Most of the women in Newarpaani were Chepang one of the indigenous groups in the country. Santa Maya Chepang has been handling the group of twenty five members which includes both Upper lower Caste women members.

Every community has their own values and norms. Various communities have their different stories. Despite having diverse cultural and background, women in Newarpani group are working together since 2011 irrespective of caste, race, religion though discrimination on the basis of caste still exists in Nepal and deeply rooted in villages.

A widow in her red Saree and red Tika- that is forbidden by Hindu tradition was one of the most thought-provoking observations that I saw in Newarpaani. It was astonishing how this woman, Santu Lumba stood against the social taboo (that a widow cannot be in color) and how other women in the community supported her. She lives with her two children and she is confident that she can provide them good education. She has now more than five goats and two pigs that provides her secured livelihood and hopes for rebuilding her house that was devastated by the earthquake in 25 April 2016.

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Shantu Lumba, a widow,from Newarpani Women Group in front of her devastated house with her two children

Chisapani was the most remote and backward community comparative to other communities. WPD Nepal had formed women group in Chisapani five months ago. The community members of Chepang and few Tamang people, this group was the most vulnerable as women groups seem to be innocent and passive that provides gaps to easily get manipulated by external parties.

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Rita Chepang from Newarpaani Women Group owns a buffalo and makes her living by selling its milk

 We had several discourses and discussions with them during the visit and it took us several hours to convince them that we were there to facilitate their livelihood in real terms.

On contrary, the majority of Chepang people, Makari were way different than Chisapani group. Women in this community were very active and smart. They have their own agricultural farming, livestock and also poultry farming. Som Laxmi Praja a public health volunteer has been leading the Makari Women’s group of twenty-five members since last five years.

Now the women groups are able to prioritize their local needs internally- rather than a top down approach. To reduce the time taken to fetch water- now they want to built water tank within the community.

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Women in Chisapani Women Group

As we were returning from Makari village, the organic relationship in rural Makwanpur was triggering and my thoughts were with those women groups. The selflessness and generosity of women group could be rarely visible in urban context.

‘When a woman no more is limited within their social boundaries, when she can raise her voice for social injustice and inequalities and can demand something for her, when a woman embrace courage to oppose violence and exploitation against her, when a woman can argue for equality then it is women empowerment in real terms for me.

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Women in Makari, Hadikhola with banana from their farm which they cultivated together

It is pleasure to have World Accord, as supporting partner with WPD Nepal for accompanying Nepalese women to facilitate and strengthen their living standard, also for reaching to those indigenous groups and OCIC for showing initiatives in conveying those women’s success and empowerment to the world.

Well, women empowerment has now become a relative term. It varies according to communities, culture, values, norms, geographical communities, their accessibility to public delivery services, programs that they are exposed to, and overall strengthened livelihood. As per my systematic observation lens, the programs and orientation of WPD Nepal in the community has become effective in terms of ‘real’ women empowerment.

 

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