Doing Our Bit for Liberty in Nepal
By Riya Basnet
South Asia Women For Liberty (SAWFL) conducted a workshop on “Women and Liberty” to connect women with an organization that can help them commercialize their ideas. We have successfully connected 15 women from Mahendranagar to organizations such as Seva Nepal and Krishi Club that now provide skills, training, and assistance in making a living.
At a secret meeting place in called Jitpur, we held our first workshop on April 9, 2015 with 35 participants. The prime goal of our workshop was to inspire these young ladies to empower women and change society.
The workshop began with an introduction to SAWFL and sharing success stories of our recent project development. The second session was followed as a discussion where some women came forward to share their experiences.
One among them was 32-year old Shanti Mallaha who has been running a small liquor shop after the death of her husband. She sales are good, but most nights a few cops hang around and take liquor without paying. This caused her to lose $3, which she says is equal to half of the monthly cost of caring for her child. Shanti could neither complain nor could she speak a word against them.
Thirty-six year old Munni Mallaha added by saying, “Rudeness and abuse of authority are the general traits of these officials. I have gone to the authorities to get my national identity card, but every time I go they ask me for $5. I earn $2 to $3 per day and if I give them $5, my family will starve the next two days.”
There are so many women who are facing similar problems. These women have to wait for the right season to earn a living. Fisherwomen have to wait for the rainy season and during the summer they grow and sell vegetables. Nevertheless, they are happy with the work they are doing.
Most of them said that working illegally, without asking permission from the authorities to fish in the river is much better than working legally. Working informally has led to happiness while working formally has caused them to spend more money. Now, they simply hope that they won’t ever get caught and never have to go to the officials for any legal action.
These women and their female ancestors from time immemorial have been living on land that they are not allowed to own. If they ask the authorities about getting title in their names, they are told to leave the land and go somewhere else. At the moment their main fear is that one day the land will be taken away from them with no hope of restitution.
We discovered during the workshop that it is not only the authorities who restrict the women, but it is sometimes the women themselves who don’t take the necessary steps toward empowerment. They remain dominated by the social norms and the culture they have been following. In this community a newlywed woman isn’t allowed to walk outside of her home for the first year of her marriage.
Also she isn’t allowed to remove her veil in front of any male other than her husband. These women loathe the culture, yet they don’t act against it. They blindly believe that if they go against custom, they will face brutal consequences from the Almighty.
We felt somewhat powerless and were unable to answer their questions on how our organization could help to get their homes back. All I could reply was that I will share their stories with the larger public. I believe that awareness is the best beginning for taking action against such happenings.
Therefore this is SAWFL’s small effort to support these women and we hope with our full dedication we shall contribute more in the days to come.
Riya Basnet is founder and member of the Executive Board of the Students for Liberty of South Asia, and founder of South Asian Women for Liberty (SAWFL). SAWFL is an organization in rural Nepal that works to promote entrepreneurship and economic freedom where women are excluded from legal rights. Riya is currently founding a microbank to serve women who have been excluded from normal economic activity because they are prohibited from holding property and national identity cards. She is also the Goodwill Ambassador at Rakshya Nepal, an organization that works to advocate for legal status of women who freely choose to earn a living in the business of sexual services.
Update on Nepal Earthquake:
Dear All, I just got back home safely from safety shelters. The situation is very very pathetic out here. We are trying to distribute masks and mineral water to the affected people! Currently, Students for Liberty, along with the Youth Thinkers Society, distributed some masks and we have been trying to get some medical help from a local pharmaceutical company. Given the large number of victims, what we are doing is very minimal but we are trying to do more.
It is heart wrenching to helplessly see people cry for help. The major focus has been on giving to food and accommodation, but we see from the close proximity there is a high risk of an epidemic outbreak given the situation of toilets, washrooms, and people tending to use open spaces to urinate and defecate.
We are trying to launch a campaign to distribute masks and disinfectant powder to clean toilets that can help very much to improve the health of suffering people.
Also if we see through the density of people living outside in the shelters or on the roads, there is more risk of communicable disease. Even though swine flu has been overshadowed by the earthquake, we shouldn’t neglect that.
I have invested some on my side and we are looking for ways to generate some funds for the affected people. Please help us. Let us all work together in days like this.
I hope for your positive response.
Liberty Love, Riya Basnet