Women moving Nepal’s climate activism


When Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old Indian climate activist was arrested last month for sharing online information related to the farmers’ protest in India, it put a spotlight on the importance of young women in the region spreading awareness about the climate crisis.

A generation ago, ‘climate change’ was a foreign term in Nepal and there was very little understanding or awareness of it in the media and in society. This saddened Bindu Bhandari, and it made her think about Nepal’s position as one of the most vulnerable countries to the global impact.

"When I started working on climate in 2014, I was an undergraduate student, and still didn't know about these issues. I became concerned that the real victims of climate change don't know much about it and have few ways to adapt to it," says Bhandari, who currently works as climate program associate at Climate Interactive.

A student of veterinary science, Bhandari began to see the linkages between climate change and what she was studying: "We are in the frontlines of climate change. But that does not mean that we are simply victims. It's also an opportunity.”

Bhandari’s work now involves using interactive tools, role playing games, and workshops to teach people about the climate emergency and how it affects Nepal.

The organisation has developed games that simulate scenarios of proposals to reduce greenhouse gases, and pathway tools that help visualise change. Bhandari takes these games to schools, and to other stakeholders involved in forests, energy, activism, corporate world, and in diverse ranges of cultures and professions, providing trainings.

Shilshila Acharya is with the Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI) which reaches out to young people. She has engaged in education and engagement activities related to youth in climate issues through three to five-day courses on climate change in different parts of Nepal, reaching more than 1,100 students so far. The Covid-19 restriction actually worked in HCI’s favour, as it helped scale up, reaching up to 600 students in a single online batch.

"We want to teach youth to implement sustainable ideas," says Acharya. "We are providing local level government fellowships to 60 fellows. They need to identify problems and design sustainable solutions.” Acharya and her colleagues support young students to design their own approaches to climate change. Their ideas are developed into projects to be implemented and funded by the local municipality.

One of these is the Hamri Bahini initiative, which supports women from low-income groups to make and sell cloth bags to discourage the use of plastic bags, while also helping the creators of the bag understand the impact of the climate crisis.

“Public campaigns not just help make the issue visible in the media, but also remind people to think of climate issues,” says Acharya.

Sagarika Bhatta, who founded Power Shift Nepal, often leads such public campaigns. Educational programs about the relationship between climate change, city, gender, mountain and agriculture are some of the areas of their work. The participants are women aged between 18-24 who engaged in research on climate change policy, followed by activism.

"Power Shift Nepal has campaigned against oil drilling exploration in Nepal. We are also collecting signatures from environmentalists against increased taxes for electric vehicles. Such outreach programs and campaigns help raise awareness of climate issues among a larger audience," says Bhatta. Campaigns related to fossil fuel free urban space and how to transfer to renewable energy have been some of their latest activities.

Climate change is known to impact women in remote, rural areas more severely, but little knowledge or awareness is available to those regions in terms of how they can combat its impact. With young women in urban centers stepping up activism and awareness, there is newfound hope that their work will help spread understanding on the issue.

In December 2020, the Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoFE) approved a Gender and Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, which many activists marked as an achievement. But the work to change the way the issue is perceived and misunderstood, and to raise Nepal's voice in international platforms continues to be an uphill one.

Nepalese Youth for Climate Action (NYCA) is one such voluntary group, a loose network of youths that works to make children and youth aware of climate change through research, advocacies and awareness programs. Their presentations called "Climate Talk" and a talk series called "Green Discussion" on Youtube, are recorded in schools and colleges, which gives students a platform to have a say in climate change.

"With a secretariat at Clean Energy Nepal, we work on zero funds. We often approach other organisations for financial support to organize conferences, etc.," says Shreya KC, coordinator of NYCA. “It's not always easy, but our passion for the environment keeps us going.”

Sewa Bhattarai is a consultant for the Road to COP26 Project, which is funded by FCDO and implemented by the British Council.