Win-win for women

Young women who have overcome deprivation and discrimination could make ideal assistants to newly-elected women village and municipality leaders

As provincial governments and legislatures get down to business in Provinces 5 and 6 in western Nepal, young elected representatives hold the answer to inclusive development of this under-served region.

The newly-elected local women vice chairs of village councils and female deputy mayors could get help from young women and committed individuals who have struggled against deprivation and discrimination.

“I am worried that the newly elected local women and Dalit leaders will be considered incompetent for their jobs,” explains Sharada Regmi Biswokarma (right), vice chairperson of Baijanath Rural Municipality in Province 5. One of the vice chair’s responsibilities is to address judicial issues, and many lack the expertise and experience in legal matters. If men were vice chairs they too would be in the same situation, but Biswokarma feels that elected women may be labeled unfit, and the position scrapped by the next elections.

Saraswoti Tharu, 21, (right) is an undergraduate student at the Mahendra Multiple Campus in Nepalganj, and also serves as a support teacher in her high school. She has been forced to be independent from age 6 when her mother ran away with another man leaving her with an older brother.

She was abused by her father and step mother. Saraswati attempted suicide, but found her feet with help of a local charity.

Bimala Pariyar is from a Dalit family with three siblings. Her father was a migrant worker in India to earn enough to pay for her ailing mother’s medical bills. She was lucky to get a scholarship to go to school in Khajura of Province 5, and now works as a social mobiliser for Room To Read, and attending college at the same time.

Nazia Khan, 20, (right) is part of a Muslim family of two brothers and four sisters. After her sister’s education was stopped she was identified as a possible child at risk and was enrolled into a school here. She is also teaching and studying for her undergraduate degree at the same time.  “Education empowers girls from Muslim communities to stop from being child brides and to gain confidence to earn and study,” says Khan.

Manisha Khadka (right) is from Surkhet in Province 6 and was married when she was in Grade 10.

She quit school for six years as she gave birth to a son. She is now trying to catch up with her education, while her husband often beats her up at home. She is now also a part-time teacher and is speaking out in public against domestic violence. “The fact that I got support to continue with my studies has made a big difference to me,”

says Khadka.

Sirajun Nisha (right) is also an undergraduate with her own income as a Friday teacher. She comes from an under-privileged Muslim family and had to support them as a child worker. She was lucky to be identified as a possible girl at risk and was put to school till Grade 12. She now teaches younger girls like herself in the madarsa from where she graduated and now earns enough to pay for her college.

“I now know why education is important: to stop myself and others from being abused,” she says.

Somana Khadka (right) is blind but is studying for her Masters, and is vice president of Asahaya Bidyarthi Sangh in Surkhet. Because of her education and support from her peers in the NGO she is able to anchor district level programs and is aspiring to be a writer and already has published poetry.

Madina Khatun from Surkhet is a mother of five sons and three daughters who are uneducated because they have to work to repay the family debt. Her second daughter was married off while she was in Grade 8 and now has two children and a difficult life. Madina took several loans from microfinance institutions and money lenders. When the madarsa was started in 2001, there were 44 students with a majority of boys. Today it has 200 students with more than 60% girls, says head teacher Ahmed Raza. The girls have continued with their studies while the boys have dropped out because they have to work to pay off the family debt.

The message from these young Nepali daughters is that education empowers them to reject early marriage, find jobs, and deal with domestic violence themselves. Many vice chairs of rural municipalities have been elected after a long struggle in the women’s rights movement. However, they lack the knowledge to take up the judicial role of the vice chairs. The women profiled above come from diverse backgrounds, but all have struggled to overcome discrimination and entrenched poverty. They could be ideal assistants to elected women representatives. They are young, smart, committed, and need jobs, and elected women need help in their new positions. It could be a win-win.

Namrata Sharma is Chair of the Centre for Investigative Journalism Nepal

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