Promoting Women’s Rights at the Labour Party Conference

Last week I attended the Labour Party Conference to promote VSO’s Women in Power campaign which is calling for women’s participation and influence in decision making roles to be recognised through a target in the post 2015 development framework. Two third of people living in extreme poverty are women, yet they have the least say in what is done to tackle this. Not only is this unjust but it is a major barrier to tackling extreme poverty.

It was exciting to attend an event like this in Manchester, where I live. There was a buzz around the conference that spread out into the city. It was a chance for campaigners to raise their voice on important issues, for labour party members to have their say, and politicians to outline Labours stance on policies and issues.

On Sunday, the conference kicked off for me in attending the ‘Young Labour Women: Circular Firing Up Squad Workshop’. It was great to see so many women motivated to increasing women’s leadership skills and mentoring each other to aim high. Much of what I saw echoed the work I did in increasing women’s leadership capacity in Nepal. Labour had many events at the conference focussing on increasing women’s leadership; including ‘Sex and Power’ event and ‘is your cabinet 50/50?’ This fitted well with our own aims to raise the profile of gender as a development issue with Labour’s parliamentarians.

At the VSO and International Citizens Service (ICS) fringe event, ICS volunteers, Nushrath and Jake inspired the audience with why this generation is in a position to tackle world poverty. It was great to see Alison McGovern, MP Shadow international development minister advocating for internationalism and in support of VSO and the ICS programme.

ICS event

During the conference Jim Murphy, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, pledged to honour the 0.7% spending of gross national income on international development. Furthermore he highlighted that Labour will put human rights at the heart of DFID, including focus on Women’s rights and LGBT rights, religious freedoms and workers’ protections. This again was echoed in Ed Miliband’s speech who stated that fighting for values overseas and promoting human rights, including for gay and lesbian people was a key priority for Labour.

Labour recently appointed Seema Malhotra as first Shadow Minister for Preventing Violence against Women and Girls. This was a positive step for tackling an issue that affects 35% of all women globally. During the Women’s Aid event at the conference Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper placed VAWG firmly on Labours agenda by sharing that a Violence Against Women And Girls Bill should be in the first Queen’s Speech if there is a Lab Government in 2015. I hope that their aims are not just limited to the national level but an international one too!
During the conference, VSO hosted a breakfast meeting with Labour Parliamentarians to promote the Women in Power campaign, highlight the importance of a gender goal in the post 2015 framework and encourage the Labour party to embed gender into its development thinking. During this event, I was able to share some of the work I was doing in Nepal with women in positions of power, how this helped women to challenge their position, voice and influence in society, and the wider implications this had for the community and other development areas. Parliamentarians, Meg Munn and Pamela Nash shared why the Women in Power campaign is important to them, and that they firmly believe that the rights of women and girls are non negotiable. This includes women’s access to health and education, their sexual and reproductive health rights, their rights to participation, as well as to ending Violence against women and girls.

breakfast meeting

2015 will be a critical year for women’s rights with the agreement of the post 2015 agenda and the review of the Beijing Platform for Action, I came away from the conference feeling positive that if Labour were to return to power in 2015 that they will continue the drive for women’s rights both nationally and internationally. However, I was disappointed that the leader’s speech mentioned human rights, without focussing directly on women’s rights. With 2015 being such an important year in tackling this, I felt it would have been valuable to highlight a plan for tackling this major injustice.
UK parliamentarians must be on board for progress to be achieved. This highlights that although positive inroads have been made, the need to continuously hold them to account in ensuring that their pledges are met continues.

All opinions expressed here are my own personal views, and do not represent the views of any company or organisation with which I may be affiliated.

Why voting in the Euro elections matters

Today is polling day for the European elections.   The EU is the world’s largest aid donor, the world’s largest trading bloc and a big global political player. How the EU support development efforts across the globe, how it trades and how Europe responds to the global challenges such as climate change all directly impact developing countries. The candidates who get elected to the European Parliament in 2014 will need to ensure that the EU’s development policy is ambitious and works towards eradicating poverty worldwide.

I hope that the MEP’s selected will continue to support International Development aid and help work towards eradicating poverty.

Here is a blog I posted on euroreporter after my meeting with local MEP candidate, Mr Afzal Khan:

I’m a community health nurse from the north of England and recently returned from a life-changing experience working for a women’s organisation called WEAF and at a local hospital in rural Nepal. For more than two years I became a public health volunteer with VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas), leaving my familiar world to work with local communities who showed me what it means to have to fight to claim your rights as a woman. I’ve returned with a commitment to raise their voices in the international sphere where possible which took me to my first meeting with an MEP candidate seeking election in the north-west of England this week.

Globally, women suffer disproportionately from poverty. Although they complete 66% of the worlds work, they earn only 10% of the world’s income and 1% of the world’s property. When women do earn however, they reinvest 90% of their income into their community and family. This disparity is very evident in Nepal.

While supporting the Women’s Empowerment Action Forum (WEAF) in Dailekh in the mid-west of Nepal I met inspiring women who were doing amazing things to tackle gender imbalances in society. When they were given a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, women showed that they made positive changes. They demanded better maternal and contraceptive services, they demanded laws about violence against women that are set at a national level are implemented locally, and they showed they were ready to campaign for girls and boys to have equal education

In Nepal, I saw first-hand the difference that development aid can make to the lives of people living in poverty.  In the 12 years that the WEAF has been funded, the members have succeeded in challenging some social norms in a patriarchal society. They’ve significantly reduced rates of uterine prolapse in the area (that can affect 50% of women) and cut back traditional practices like Chau Padi (keeping women in the cow shed for their menstrual period). Funding from international donors like the EU has significantly helped with this.

Back in the UK, I arranged a meeting with the MEP candidate for the North West, Mr Afzal Khan. I wanted to inspire Mr Khan to be a development champion in the next European Parliament. Mr Khan is  the former Mayor of Manchester and has a strong history of charity work and says that International Development is something he feels passionately about. If elected, he hopes to sit on the parliament’s Development (DEVE) committee where he can hold the European Commissioner responsible for ensuring that development aid is targeted to where it is most needed. In light of discussions globally about what follows the UN Millennium Development Goals, the Post-2015 agenda, Khan assured me that if elected he will advocate for a stand-alone gender goal with a focus on increasing women’s participation in public and political life as well as gender mainstreaming across all goals.

I hope that the European Parliament elections on Thursday (22 May) will deliver a parliament that will support International Development and continue to ensure that organisations such as WEAF can fight for women’s voice to be heard, and ultimately for all women’s human rights to be realised.

To take action for Women in Power through signing VSO’s petition follow this link:  http://bit.ly/1l76NRS

I’m in New York this week for the 58th Convention on the status of Women

I’m in New York with a team of VSO employees and it partner organisation, Sankalpa, for the 58th Convention on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations (UN). This is when member states come together annually to discuss the status of women and girls, women’s rights and women’s empowerment globally. Following this event, an agreed document is produced that informs practice for the year to come.

This year’s priority theme is to review the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls that are due to expire in 2015.

While negotiations take place, side events in and around the UN complex occur. There’s been an abundant of topics to choose from including sexual and reproductive health rights, child marriage, women in politics, women’s participation, challenging social norms, violence against women. Panel debates followed by question time provide an interactive and interesting platform for discussing topical issues and women’s human rights.

Two third of people living in extreme poverty are women, yet they have the least say in what is done to tackle this. Not only is this unjust, but it is a major barrier to tackling extreme poverty. So, we’re using CSW as a platform for raising awareness of VSO’s ‘Women in Power’ Campaign. Chanda Devi Shrestha Rai, Executive Director of VSO’s partner organisation Sankalpa will be speaking at a Kenyan Government side event on Tuesday on increasing women’s meaningful participation in politics. I’ll also be speaking at a UN Volunteer’s event on my experience of volunteering, and work with grassroots women’s organisations in Nepal.

We want the UN to set ambitious new targets for women and decision making. This position is firmly supported by, the UK government with UK Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, announcing at a side event that they are firmly behind a gender goal in the Post-2015 framework.

I’ve enjoyed meeting many different people from different countries united in the fight for women’s rights globally. It is a reminder of the sad fact that no country has reached gender equality and therefore the need to step up progress in 2015. It has been refreshing to see ‘social norms’ being discussed so widely instead of just laws and quotas. Justine Greening tweeted last week about needing to ‘tackle harmful social norms which stop girls from reaching their full potential’.

In living and working in Nepal, I have seen how social norms underpin issues of gender inequality from violence against women and girls to reducing women’s meaningful participation. Through solidarity gained from women’s organisations, women have been encouraged and empowered to challenge the norms that exist within a patriarchal society. For example, they’ve been able to campaign for equal opportunities for sons and daughters, reducing child marriage rates, and demanding women’s reproductive health rights and choices.

Change is possible. I hope that our contribution to CSW will encourage the UN to set ambitious new targets for the post-2015 agenda so that women do have active role in tackling poverty.

Want to know more? Watch a video of Cath’s experiences in Nepal or sign up to VSO’s Women in Power CampaignImage

Women overcoming challenges in the Mid west of Nepal

 

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For International Women’s Day 2014 I would like to share the stories of some  of the amazing women I have worked with over the past two years; the challenges they have faced, and successes that they have achieved. In 2015 Post Millennium Development goals will be set taking over from the Millennium Development goals.  For this post 2015 framework VSO are lobbying for a stand-alone gender goal through their Women In Power Campaign. These stories help to provide insight into why there is a need for a stand-alone goal and what the benefits of this goal could be.

Nepal is in the process of making political history through forming it’s first constitution. November 2013 saw the second elections to form a Constitutional Assembly(CA) since the end of the civil war in 2006.

In 2007 the Interim Constitution of Nepal mandated a 33% female participation quota across all government and local government boards. However in the recent election only 10 female candidates won the polls under the First Past the Post (FPTP) system; a mere 4.57 percent of the total 240 seats.

Even with the 162 Proportional Representative (PR) seats women’s representation is still down from  33 percent in the previous CA. This leaves women leaders wondering what voice they will have in forming the constitution. As a high proportion of women with strong political backgrounds came through PR, a large number of seats were given based on nepotism rather than competency.

The lack of elected female representative seats leads to the question of whether Nepal views women as strong leaders. In Dailekh district, many women leaders feel that they are not taken seriously.

“We are seen as there to fill a quota. Sometimes we are not even invited to important meetings. If we do go to meetings and give speeches, we are laughed at” said Mahendra Malla, female political party member and chairperson of women’s network in Bindabasini, Dailekh.

Quota’s alone are not the answer for increasing female representation. Changes in the mindset of people is also needed.  Often the deep rooted gender identities that societies assign to men and women puts them in boxes as “mothers and home maker” or “fathers and provider”. Challenging the social order is often to challenge the basic core of gender identities within society.

 Sunita Chand, ex chairperson of WEAF, discussed some of the challenges that women activists face in  convincing other women as well as men that women have the ability to lead:

                “Many people in our community don’t believe that women can be leaders. Not just men, but women too.  In this culture no woman would want another woman to be in a high authority position. When we climb the ladder of success other women will pull us down. Instead of helping women at higher posts they hold them back. They will not think they can gain something from these high authority women, instead they will just pull them down.”

In recognising gender identities as rooted in our conscious it makes it easier to understand and anticipate resistance that women as well as men show to change that challenges this. Identifying some of the subtle social norms that impact on women’s role can help in addressing these structural gender inequalities.

Women’s Empowerment Action Forum have been working towards gender equality in Dailekh district for over a decade.  The past two decades have seen positive changes in Nepal for women’s empowerment yet many women in the mid west of Nepal remain unchanged by the laws set in Kathmandu.

“Social and cultural laws here in Nepal are more powerful than the written laws. So there must be a lot of awareness programmes to improve the situation” said women’s activist, Dilkumari Chand.

Through advocacy and awareness raising programmes WEAF are attempting to weaken the restraining cultural norms. In Bindabasini and Chauratha villages WEAF have helped to set up Women’s Networks.  Women’s organisations have acted as a strong enabling factor in uniting women to overcome gender inequality. The number of women in positions of authority in these areas is slowly increasing. Being involved in networks has helped women to change their position and unlocked real potential for gender development.  Through participating in public and political spheres women in Dailekh have been able to challenge some of these social and cultural norms and overcome discrimination.

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Challenging the social norms that  ‘women are just baby Making Machines’

In the Midwest of Nepal women discuss the pressure on them to have children. ‘We are seen as baby making machines’ said Mahendra Malla.  ‘Women are viewed in a different way as they must stay at home and give birth to children’. In Nepali culture, pressure is exerted on women to produce a son ‘We will sometimes have six or seven daughters just trying for a son’.  This pressure placed on women requires contextualising within a system with little social security.   In a culture where women move away once married, a son is seen as an insurance policy; a provider of wealth and security, who will be able to look after his parents in their old age.

The women’s network in Bindabasini have started to challenge this social norm that is seen as one of the root causes of holding women back from equal participation. Gita Dhakhal (teacher and women’s network member) shared her thoughts on this:

 “In my opinion, both daughter and son must be brought up in an environment where they can learn about equality and mutual understanding. Neither of them should feel that they are  inferior or superior. I will give equal opportunity to my daughter and son without partiality. In this way, there won’t be any discrimination between male and female in future.”

Through discussion groups with males and females, this issue has been placed on the agenda. Families have started to discuss this social concern and celebrate the birth of daughters as well as sons.

Women who are unable to have children face even more stigma from the community and in the home. Bishnu Shahi discussed some of the hurtful remarks she faced when she first found out she couldn’t have children

                “They used to say ‘what is the use of you if you can’t give your husband a child, he will want to marry another women soon.”

Bishnu has faced many challenges in her life. She grew up in a well respected family. Her father was both a politician and the leader of their village. However her life changed dramatically after her father suffered a stroke leading to paralysis of the throat. They sold all their property in order to treat him. Her mother also suffered an accident at the local mill injuring both her legs. Her parents were unable to pay for Bishnu’s education and she was married at the age of fourteen:

“I was not happy to leave my parents. But I had to go to my husband’s house in spite of my wish. I cried a lot. I can’t express the situation of that time in words.”

In her new home, her parents-in-law were not keen for her to continue her education. Bishnu was determined to finish school but without time to attend classes it took her five years to complete this.  Now she is studying for her bachelors degree. In order to satisfy her families needs, she does this between the hours of nine pm and five am around her household choirs. Bishnu is now an advocate for other women to complete their education:

                “My family were not happy with me studying. I had to do lots of work at home. But they have changed their mind now. With the help of the women’s network, I have been able to advocate for the importance of women’s education. Now they are ready to send their daughters to school too.”

Bishnu discussed some of the torture she has faced in her home as a result of not having children. Although it has never been confirmed whether it is herself or her husband who has the fertility problem, she feels she is the one to shoulder the blame:

“Women have this problem but men don’t. If a husband can’t give a child to his wife he will not go to the doctor and the family will just continue to blame the wife”.

Bishnu feels that being involved in the Women’s Network and a member of Women’s Empowerment Action Forum has given her respect in the community and helped her to face her many challenges:

“I get tortured from my husband but respect from the community. In the community I am a social worker I talk to everyone nicely and am friendly to them, so that is why they give me respect”.

Bishnu is an active member of the community. She is the treasurer for a saving scheme group in her village. They collect money from savers in the village through a cooperative organization.  Bishnu believes that being actively engaged in the community and having a voice has helped her to gain respect within the home as well.:

“I used to face different kinds of violence. My voice was not heard. I was not allowed to attend college. I had to do too much household works. Everyone in the family, my in-laws, humiliated me every time. But after I started to involve myself in WEAF, this has reduced. At least they now listen to me.”

She urges other women to become actively engaged:

                “I believe women’s voice is necessary because I have changed myself and my situation through WEAF. This can be equally important for other women too. They need to be awakened and be active.”

Caste discrimination

Gita Dhakhal married through love at the age of 22. Her husband was of a higher caste than herself. She spoke of the difficulties she faced as a result of her inter-caste marriage.

                “I belonged to a lower caste and it was a breech of social law. The family couldn’t accept me normally. I was not allowed to cook or serve a meal for the family”

Although the caste system was officially abolished in Nepal in 1962 is it still heavily ingrained in the Nepali culture. In some parts of Nepal marrying outside of caste group is still very much frowned upon.

Gita was determined to finish her education, so despite her in-laws disapproval she continued to study after marriage. She completed her bachelors degree in education and started working as a teacher. She felt that she only gained respect within her family once she had a son. Gita become involved in the women’s network because of her high educational background. Once she became active within the network she was able to make changes in her community:

                “As our marriage was inter-caste, I had to do a lot of things to win the hearts of my family. Similarly I was able to impress the community with my loyalty, helpfulness, and impartiality”

Once Gita had gained the support from the community, her husband was able to openly support her. She has been able to attend events in other districts in Nepal and speak about issues she feels passionate about, such as the importance of treating sons and daughters equally.

The social challenges that women face are multi-faceted. Gender is only one of many social relations that impact on equality. While gender is never absent, it is also never present in a purely distinct form but intertwined with other social inequalities (caste, religion, race, age, disability). Often women can suffer from multiple discriminations. A stand-alone goal to tackle gender discrimination would assign specific interventions and indicators bearing these complexities in mind.

Through organisations like WEAF women have been able to gain a sense of solidarity and realise that they are not the only person facing challenges and this gives them strength to speak out. There is no easy solution. Often women who are actively engaged in the community have experienced discrimination and have continuous challenges with regards to this. Women’s participation is essential as having first hand experience into many of the issues gives women understanding and the ability to influence important decisions in their community.

I believe that a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s rights, together with mainstreaming gender across the 2015 PMDG will enable WEAF and other women’s organisations worldwide to continue in the amazing work that they are doing to address structural gender inequalities.

 

*Some of the names above have been changed at the request of individuals so that they can remain anonymous 

 

 

Take action with VSO on the Women in Power Campaign

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photo by Peter Caton/VSO, Women’s network, Bindabasini VDC, Dailekh district, Nepal

 

www.vso.org.uk/WiP/take-action

Worldwide women suffer disproportionately from poverty,  making up almost two thirds of people living in extreme poverty.  Despite performing two thirds of the world’s work and producing 50% of the food women earn only 10% of the income, and own only 1% of the property. In addition to this the number of women in positions of power able to influence this imbalance is minimal. Just 13 out of 193 heads of government are women. Only one in five parliamentarians is a woman. Women hold just 17% of ministerial positions around the world. At the current rate of progress VSO estimates it will take 120 years before women make up half of the worlds leaders and over 50 years until women are equally represented in parliaments.

I listened to a speech recently by Kavita Ramdas. She used the analogy of cooking a rice cake in explaining why women’s presence at the top is needed:

“How do you cook a rice cake, from heat from the bottom or heat from the top?’ The protest the marches, the uncompromising position that women’s rights are human rights full stop part the heat from the bottom, but you also need the heat from the top. In most parts of the world that top is still controlled by men. To paraphrase Marx women may change, but not in ‘circumstances of their own choosing’.

I believe women’s equal access and influence over decision making in public and political life is critical. Not only as it is a fundamental right, but because women suffer disproportionately through poverty any effort to address this and build sustainable communities therefore needs to meaningfully involve those who are most affected by it, i.e. women.

In 2000  the UN member states agreed eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG)  to achieve by 2015.

  1. Eradication of extreme poverty.
  2. Universal access to primary education.
  3. Promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.
  4. Reduction of child mortality.
  5. Improved maternal health
  6. Combat HIV and AIDS.
  7. Environmental sustainability.
  8. The establishment of a global partnership for development.

With the MDG ending in 2015 focus is being placed on developing new post-millennium development goals (PMDG). Unlike the MDG the PMDG will provide focus to all countries; developed and developing. Although not perfect the MDG were a successful tool for focusing development efforts and money where they were most needed. The PMDG will focus political ambition and money. VSO are campaigning for a stand alone goal for women’s empowerment and gender equality with a specific target to: Eliminate discrimination against, and increase the participation and influence of, women at all levels of public and political life.’

While significant progress has been made towards women’s empowerment in the past few decades, equality is still a long way off. Kavita Ramdas sums up some of the challenges that sets feminism apart from other social movements:

“Feminism, unlike any other social movement is not a struggle against a distinct oppressor, it is not the ruling class, or the occupiers, or the colonizers it is against a deeply held set of beliefs and assumptions that we as women far to often hold ourselves”

Patriarchal societies and social norms that focus women’s roles on care and domestic work, and inflexible decision making institutions are all structural barriers that stop women from participating in and influencing decision making.

Often it is the patriarchal cultures and social norms that prevent equality, creating a more subtle and hidden form of discrimination that if not challenged can almost go unnoticed. A stand alone goal focused on micro planning as opposed to a one fits all approach can help to address some of these subtle norms.

A concrete target on women’s participation and influence and indicators that measure women’s participation in quantitative and qualitative ways is needed.

This Saturday 8th March is International Women’s Day and this will be used as a platform for lobbying for a stand alone goal for gender equality. Please join VSO in taking action on this campaign.

www.vso.org.uk/WiP/take-action

Cath’s New Year’s Resolutions

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I was woken up this New Years Eve at 5 a.m. by my friend telling me it was raining. It was a dreary cold wet winters morning that would be completely normal in the UK, but in Nepal (outside of rainy season), not so.  The weather made me feel nostalgic for Manchester.

We had spent the night before roasting peanuts on the fire and looking up at the stars. I had been in a reflective mood, aware that my time in Nepal would soon be coming to an end, and there would not be many nights like this left.

In the morning I boiled some water for a wash on the stove and braved undressing in the freezing room grateful for a bucket wash with hot water. Afterwards I put on as many clothes as physically possible, while still allowing movement in my arms and legs.

The storm had knocked out the electricity; this time of year there is frequently 10 hours per day scheduled load shedding anyway  but this meant that there may not be any electricity for days on end. (I am writing this being aware of the precious battery time left on my computer).

I think about life in the UK, the marvel of constant electricity,  central heating, and warm water. They are luxuries that are surprisingly easy to live without, but still with only three months left here I find myself getting increasingly excited about being able to indulge in them.

New year is a frequent time for looking back at the past and considering the future. I have to admit that I don’t usually bother with New Years resolutions, but this year seems different; changes are ahead.

On 1st April we will be returning back to the UK after 27 months living in Nepal. I have mixed feelings of sadness at leaving behind a country and people that have had such a big impact on me and my life as well as excitement to be returning to the UK; seeing old friends and family, being in a culture that I didn’t quite realise how much I was part of until I left it, and yes indulging in food and home comforts that I have been without here. But when I leave, I hope to take with me the many things I have learnt from Nepal.  This leads me to my resolutions:

Continue to make space for my own time  

In Dailekh I have been living in a small community, where people are always walking in and out of each others homes, and where being ‘eklai’ (alone) is considered the biggest tragedy ever. While being part of a close community has been really lovely, I have learnt that to stay sane, it is also important to recognise when you need your own space too. Having time to read a book, watch a film, do some knitting, and to reflect on some of the crazy experiences has really helped with my wellbeing. I hope I will continue to find this time in the UK too.

Maintain a good work life balance

In Nepal one of the biggest frustrations for me has been the disorganisation. Plans are often made at the last minute. It is not uncommon to find out that you have to attend a meeting 24 hours travel away with just two days notice.  Any attempt to plan in advance usually ends in cancellation. While in the UK  a calendar seems like a perfectly sound idea, here where the Thulo Manche (most important person) comes first rather than the first to book in, a scheduled calendar seems redundant. Living amongst people who have lived with this all their lives, the disorganisation seems to bother me more than anyone else. Changing plans is the norm here not the exception.

Although I am so excited about the idea of having some organisation, I hope that the fast style super organised pace of work in the UK won’t consume me. Recently I spoke to a friend who has returned home from Nepal. She discussed the high speed living in the UK and how mental it all seems in comparison to Nepal. I hope that in the madness I will be able to maintain a healthy work life balance.

Continue to be involved in advocating for women’s equality

Living in Nepal has really opened my eyes to gender inequality. Through my work at WEAF I have met some truly inspiring women who against the odds have fought and continue to fight for women’s rights. Through my work at the hospital I have understood how important it is to tackle deeply engrained social norms that are at the root of gender inequality before health improvements can be made. Gender inequality is a global issue; women are disproportionately represented in positions of power worldwide. Through WEAF and VSO I have been involved in the campaign to increase the number of women in positions of power. I look forward to continuing to be involved in similar work in the future.

Continue to speak Nepali

Learning Nepali seemed like such a challenge when I first arrived here. Now with the majority of my friends in Dailekh only speaking Nepali, I use it on a daily basis. As one of my volunteer friends who visited me here pointed out, there will come a time when I will forget my Nepali, and I will not be able to stay in touch with the amazing friends I have met. I am determined to continue to practice Nepali.  Although the promise of weekly Skypes that my friends here have asked me to make may not be realistic, I want to be able to find some way of continuing to use Nepali.

Bike more

The mountain bike I bought in Kathmandu last Christmas was among my best buys here. While the cries of ‘Kathmandu cycle’ and ‘Americano Americano’ are not so great, getting out and seeing the amazing mountain views, sunrises and sea of clouds in the valley has been priceless.

I have really enjoyed living without a car for two years; relying on public transport, my bike, and walking everywhere. The pace of life is slower here and walking for 5 hours to reach a community is just the norm. Whereas I recognise that my work in the UK requires me to have a car, I also hope that when I go home I will continue to bike more.

Where possible shop locally

Living in rural Nepal, the last two years  has made shopping locally a necessity rather than a choice. However, the advantages of going local wherever possible are beneficial to everyone’s wellbeing, as well as the environment.  This  is something I would like to continue to do more when back in the UK.

Fresh vegetables taste so much better. I didn’t realise how amazing carrots could taste till I came here. I have really enjoyed eating vegetables in season. This has made me really appreciate the changing seasons and feel closer to nature (However without the amazing mango and orange season’s of Dailekh, I am not sure it will have the same appeal).

Although the options of buying local material and having a made to measure outfit for less than a tenner may not be available at home, I would like to think that I will be more aware of where my clothes come from.

I realise that having this as a resolution is contradictory in many ways to enjoying the ‘luxury items’ that I have gone without for two years. I realise that the pressures of work stress in the western world, and abundant opportunities and options available to us make this style of living challenging.

The key to saving the environment doesn’t lie with the individual; making small changes will not save the world. Big corporate changes are needed.  But on a personal level, I think there is a lot to be said for wellbeing and happiness from going local. I am not saying that this is 100% achievable, but I would like at the very least to be more aware of this and make changes, where possible. I will leave it to next years resolutions after being back in the western world for a while to assess how successful this approach will be.

As a volunteer many people are interested in knowing what skills you have shared with the developing world. For me I have found that the skills that I have gained from Nepal are just as fundamental. Nepal has taught me many things; these are just a few of many experiences I would like to act upon after returning home.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Cath x

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Nepali women can reclaim their voice through financial independence

Dil Kumari

Dil Kumari Chand is well respected within her community in Dailekh, Nepal. A women’s activist, she is one of the founding members of the Women’s Empowerment Action Forum, a grassroots NGO and local partner of anti-poverty charity Voluntary Service Overseas. She currently works on reproductive health, raising awareness of uterine prolapse — a problem that blights women in this region of Nepal.

Yet life has not always been easy for her.

Like many women in Nepal, Dil Kumari faced the challenges of an early marriage, domestic abuse and a heavy workload around the house. She identifies the turning point in gaining respect in her community as when she became financially independent.

“When I got a job and earned my own money, I started to gain the respect of others around me and was able to educate my sons myself,” she says with a grin.

However, her story is still far from being the norm. This year, the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Nepal as the third-worst country in Asia-Pacific for gender disparities. The country was also one of the lowest-ranking countries in the world for “economic participation and opportunity” (116 out of 136 countries), reflecting serious gaps between men and women in terms of employment, livelihoods and advancement. Clearly, financial independence is leverage that many women in Nepal do not have.

Increasing livelihood opportunities for women in Nepal is an important way of giving women the freedom to participate in public life. The Women’s Skills Development Organization in Pokhara, western Nepal, is an ideal example. WSDO has trained more than 8,000 women to weave, cut and sew textiles. At present it employs 380 talented, skilled women, making products for export to Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea. For these often marginalized women, it is an opportunity to earn enough income to be self-sufficient.

Established in 1975 with the support of the Nepalese government, WSDO aims to develop the textile skills of poor and illiterate Nepalese women. After losing funding with the change of government in 1989, some of the women took action. Together with three of her colleagues, Ramkali Khadka raised funds and started to produce commercially. Keeping true to the original goal of the organization, WSDO continues to provide women with free skills training, and even hires some of them as producers.

These women come from a variety of social, economic and ethnic backgrounds. Many are from rural villages and widowed, divorced, disabled or abused; some have been cast out from their homes and villages. Each woman has overcome her own obstacles to provide a better life for herself. From Sarita, who experienced discrimination in an inter-caste and abusive marriage, to Chumaya and Indrakala who both have physical disabilities, the stories of the challenges they have had to face and overcome are inspirational. The success of the project is testament to each and every one of the hard-working and dedicated women who have fought for their financial independence through WSDO.

The success stories mentioned here are representative of many across Nepal, from Dailekh to Pokhara. Through financial independence, women are liberated to make their own choices about their lives, and given the confidence and self-belief to succeed. As more livelihood opportunities become available to women in Nepal and worldwide, the gender gap can be narrowed and gender inequalities improved.

Women's Skill Development Project

Women’s Skill Development Project

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