When I took on the position of Senior EU Aid Volunteer to work on gender issues in rural communities in Nepal, little did I know about the harsh reality I would be faced with. Steeped into everyday life by living in basic conditions with a Nepalese family, I get to witness the cultural and social discrimination of women as it unfolds in everyday life here. The women of Kavresthali, a village located in the Kathmandu Valley not far from the capital city, marry early, have little or no education, no land rights or independent income, and experience violence and discrimination which normally go silent. Submissive to men, on whom their welfare depends, they are a voiceless segment of society.
Aware of the importance of women’s role in a society where they can feel safe and autonomous, VIN has embarked on an ambitious program, seeking to empower women socially and economically through education, life skills, and income-generation activities.
I took part in the project to help deliver these goals in the underprivileged communities of Kavresthali and Jitpurfedi. My tasks revolve around women empowerment and project management and vary according to the needs identified on the ground. I carry out visits in the communities to meet as many women’s groups as possible, collecting data through semi-structured interviews with group representatives and participatory observation. The collected data is reviewed and thanks to the help of desktop research, stakeholders are identified and a network strategy is established. These visits allowed me to meet women from various handicraft groups, i.e. liquid soap production, two bag-making groups (e.g. “Happy Women Kavresthali”), micro-credit and saving cooperative centres, the Jitpurfedi women agricultural cooperative, and a doll-making group. I work closely with my colleague who has a background in psychology, which complements my training and makes a great match in the context of VIN’s programme. Based on the needs expressed by the women we met, our team already developed two workshops on income-generating activities and domestic violence, respectively, followed by several others.
My long-term presence here created the exciting opportunity to embark on an over-arching project, that of creating “VIN’s women empowerment booklet” with upgraded content and methodology, structured trainings and workshops encompassing all the aspects of their ambitious outlook on raising the voices of Kathmandu Valley’s women. This will avoid the fragmentation of work and lack of continuity, inevitable within a (mostly short-term) volunteer-based organisation.
Everyday work is motivating but not exempt from several challenges and hurdles. The lush Kathmandu Valley faces the now familiar Nepalese problems of bumpy dirt roads, heavy pollution, and the ever-present clouds of dust that cast a greyish tinge on the once green foliage. Adding to that a life bound by household chores which allow little, if virtually no time for themselves, it does not come as a surprise that women gather with difficulty. They are usually late for meetings and, once they gather, find it hard to focus since this is their only time to connect and share. To the Western mind, used to time-efficiency and tight schedules, adapting to this pace of work is a daily challenge. But the women’s large smiles, their laughter, determination to step out of the cycle of subordination by using the little they have to make their voices heard, is slowly but surely weaving a thread of patience and self-assurance into my heart and strengthens the confidence that I am doing the right thing in the right place.