LWF Partners on Women’s Rights
LALITPUR, Nepal/GENEVA, 8 March 2012 (LWI)- It was a shock for Manmaya Shrestha when her husband broke his legs in a farming accident 15 years ago in Nepal’s rural Lalitpur district and her family lost its only source of income.
“I went to get some money from local merchants but they denied me as we were very poor and we did not have any source to pay back the loan. Local shopkeepers even refused to provide me with one kilogram of rice on credit, so we slept without food for many days,” Shrestha recalls.
Today, she is the head of a women’s cooperative, an entrepreneur and a community leader. “People come to seek my advice to get loans from the cooperative or training on incense-making and I always provide support to the poor and needy people, which gives me great satisfaction,” she says.
What happened after her husband’s accident involved both hard work and opportunity. Shrestha labored in other people’s fields to give her family two meals a day. Then her husband got work in a garment factory so there was enough food to eat. However, they still had loans to pay, so she started making liquor to sell in the local market.
Joining the group SOLVE Nepal in 2009 provided Shrestha with the opportunity to receive support in entrepreneurial development. SOLVE Nepal is a partner organization of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Department for World Service (DWS) program in Nepal.
Shrestha’s involvement with SOLVE Nepal increased her awareness of activities related to women’s rights and campaigns against domestic violence in a country where women are paid less than men for similar work, have few property rights and little access to the power structures.
Eventually Shrestha paid off her family’s debts and began to put some savings aside. She is considering purchasing land, is growing vegetables, rearing goats and teaching budding entrepreneurs.
“My years of hard work helped me to pay the loan and I have been able to spend a dignified life in society,” she says.
But Shrestha is not done yet. She is also back at school, trying to complete her education, even while putting aside money for her children’s education.
“I realize that all poor women can change their lives as I did in the last 15 years if they receive opportunities,” Shrestha maintains.
This is a sentiment Kaushila Chaudhary understands well. Until she was 15 years old, she worked as a bonded domestic laborer (Kamaiya) in her landlord’s home in Kailali district, a far western region of Nepal, without ever receiving any pay.
By the time she was 15, however, she was able to gain both literacy skills and other training through an LWF Nepal-run girls’ school. After receiving schooling there she started a weaving business and the income from this venture helped lift her family out of bondage.
“We bought a cart and 300 m2 of land in our village. We were able to do it through the profit from the business,” Chaudhary says.
From there, with the LWF’s support, Chaudhary helped found a community-based organization that contributed significantly to the Nepali government declaring all Kamaiyas free. Still, she persisted, and formed the Freed Kamaiya Women’s Group, to rehabilitate Kamaiya women. “Once they are rehabilitated, I will start working against violence against women,” she declares.
Banished to a Small Hut
For Laxi Devi Saud of Sripur the courage to challenge the long practiced system of keeping women apart from the community during menstruation came from Ekta Samaj, a human rights group and partner of LWF Nepal.
Saud, now a member of the Namuna Women’s Group, recalls what it was like 16 years ago when she was banished to the Kunda, a small hut built on the outskirts of her village to keep women during their menstruation.
“It was windy and was blowing so hard that it felt like it would sweep [away] me and my small baby. The next day I could see scattered tree branches all around the farm and damaged houses in the village,” Saud says.
In those days the practice was never questioned, she adds. Today, the tradition is not followed and menstruating women sleep in a specified place in their homes, which gains them a sense of protection and freedom.
“When we learned that it is our human right to be protected and live in a safer place, we changed the system,” she concludes.
LWF humanitarian work in Nepal began in 1984, at the time focusing on water resources and women’s development programs. The current engagement at community level includes emergency response and disaster risk management; sustainable livelihood for economic and social empowerment; and peace, reconciliation and human rights issues. (795 words)
Feature in observation of International Women’s Day (8 March). Read more about women and the LWF at: http://www.lutheranworld.org/lwf/index.php/tag/women