With the success of our first national workshop “Women Empowerment Starts with Liberty for Women,” we decided to leave the seminar hall and take the event directly to those in need. I come from a small community in the eastern part of Nepal where I have witnessed women trying to invest their hard-earned savings that would generate income but their social norms, their families and their husbands won’t allow them to do so. Unfortunately, they end up giving their savings to their husbands, who spend and waste it. These are the societies where women struggle for emancipation and have sacrificed their individual happiness for the sake of social peace. With this in mind, we took the effort to encourage society about women’s individuality and economic liberty in the rural areas of Eastern Nepal by inviting local women entrepreneurs to share their inspiring stories.
Our Journey started on the 12th of October, 2014 and lasted for over a week. We conducted the workshop in five locations with 163 participants. The workshop was conducted in association with the Nepal Peace Building Initiative of the Samriddhi Foundation, the Nepal Jaycees and SEVA Nepal. The workshop opened on the first day in Jhapa, Dharampur with 40 women aged 30 and above. The workshop began with Ms. Manju Taajpuriya, 33, a local entrepreneur who shared her story about economic emancipation. She explained how her life has changed in the last 3years when her husband abandoned the family and, she added with tears in her eyes, “At that time I had to live with what my in-laws gave me. I was often considered ‘a cursed woman with evil eyes’.” With the responsibility of two lives on her shoulder, she decided to earn her living by getting a second-hand sewing machine with $20 borrowed from a friend. She said, “The machine not only provided a living but also regained my lost individuality.” Now she makes $70-$80 per month and has added 2 more sewing machines to her small but growing business.
In the next phase of our discussion we discovered that the Community Development Organization had been charging a 19% rate of interest for the loans while other institutions charged only 15%. Our speaker the Hon. Ms. Bijaya Katwal of the Nepal Women’s Association, Sunsari General Committee, encouraged participants to form cooperatives and save for their own fruitful investment plans. She also explained how rural areas are the foundation for the growth of urban areas and women are the players capable of making real changes in the society.
We found that most of the women in this region did not have Citizenship Certificates. One of them was Ms. Kuti Sari Taajpuria (70yrs old) who has been fighting for her citizenship for the past 40 years—and still is. Though born in Nepal to a Nepalese couple, she still doesn’t possess the official proof that makes her a citizen of the country. Nepal allows citizenship by parents’ identity and by birth but resistance to recognize citizenship for women is rampant. Whenever she re-applies for citizenship she is asked to bribe the officials with amounts of money that will be enough to feed her family for at least a year. Now that the spotlight shines upon her, her community is now going to gather up in the VDC to appeal for her rightful citizenship. By the end of this event, a moment came when a sheer feeling of pride ran through my veins. I could see hope and strength in those eyes. It was clear to me how people underestimate the little things that matter to accomplish something big. I came to realize that it is always a small effort that could create a big difference.
With endless energy, we began our Day 2 and Day 3 of the workshop at Mahendranagar. The event followed as a collaborative event with PLAN Nepal. Our new discovery was that regardless of possessing citizenship, whenever a woman wishes to own some property she must bring her husband or son with her as a witness. Thus, this obviously leaves most of single women empty-handed. This didn’t make sense to us at all, where the system has left women completely as citizenship outcastes. But we did not lose the zeal to work more. We assured people that “Awareness is First Aid to every problem” and we will share this with the world hoping one day we will definitely create an impact.
Day 4 and Day 5 of the workshop in Biratnagar and Mohanpur were pretty amazing and a new experience for us. Most of the women had their sole formed communities in Birtangar and had grown mushrooms which they could sell for $2 per kg. In a day they would sell around 50 kilos and sometimes more than 100 kilos. They have also been training the locals to grow mushrooms. Moreover, they have recruited five women. According to one of the workers, when she wasn’t earning money she had to provide every detail of her expenditures to her husband. But today she feels independent, her husband now treats her with respect, and they both earn and save together for the family.
One of the heroic figures was Ms. Jitanidevi Sardar, a local entrepreneur and a single woman. Her husband died when she was 18. At such a tender age, when she barely had an idea of what marriage and responsibilities were, she lost her husband. Often in countries like Nepal, when a man dies the superstitious in society look down upon a widow who is blamed for her husband’s death. Again, this makes zero sense. She was treated terribly and for more than a month she was kept away from her own home. At the age of 25, when things started settling down, she started growing vegetables in the fields that she inherited from her parents and walked for 6 miles hoping to sell the vegetables at the local market. From her first harvest she made a dollar. She says, “Time has changed today. I earn more than $5 a day and I see happiness growing around my fields”.
Well, the story doesn’t end there but it sure is the beginning of a new one. Where women were once chained by ancient cultural traditions now have taken up a new fight for their individuality. Through this blog, on the behalf of whole Students for Liberty (SFL) Family, I would like to pay my earnest tribute to these women who not only displayed courage to revolutionize their society but are the true people who make a difference. And I would also like to thank our SFL members Binni Katwal and our LC trainees Pratima Pokhrel and Nisha Niraula for their incredible support and dedicated hard work. Last a tribute to my co-partner Anuj Niroula for his tremendous support and encouragement.
Lets us all put in our effort to support these women.