October 28 2020

Technicians, mothers and entrepreneurs: the new profile of Nepalese women

Karuna-Shechen breaks taboos on what rural women can and cannot do, thus changing attitudes. As Dalai Lama often points out, we more than ever need empathy, altruism and compassion: that is why it is time to enter “the woman’s era”.”- Matthieu Ricard

 

Although Nepal is making progress on issues relating to gender equality, society is still very much rooted in a patriarchal system. According to a 2004 United Nations report, with household authority shifting from one male member to another, only the father can transmit his nationality, and a woman needs her husband’s authorization to get a passport. Moreover, Nepal is one of the few countries where women’s life expectancy is lower than men’s, due to the risks associated with childbirth, early marriages and pregnancies, as well as poor access to healthy food and Health care. In rural Nepal, nearly 25% of women suffer from pelvic organ prolapse (POPs) with serious consequences for the health of mothers. Karuna Shechen, through its different programs, is already trying to sensitize communities to these women’s health issues. Also, a 2018 Unesco study highlighted that the gap between the literacy rate for men and women was 18.9-point.

At Karuna-Shechen, we are firmly convinced that women are agents of change and represent a powerful lever towards a more altruistic world.

 

A new professional opportunity

The Karuna-Shechen Solar Power Program combines two objectives: to provide electricity to homes in remote areas  and to enable women to bring light to their communities. In Kathmandu, they  receive a full 14 days training as solar technicians. Upon their return to their villages, they install and maintain solar home lighting systems. In 2020, 600 homes were equipped with solar panels and 12 women benefited from this training.

Anju Yonjan is a woman from the village of Khadadev in Nepal. She chose to participate in the solar panel electrification program offered by the association in 2017: After 7 days of training, we began wiring homes, installing new light bulbs and replacing damaged ones.” Thanks to the determination and skills they have acquired, these women have brought electricity to the homes of 2,400 beneficiaries in 2019, and to ensure the sustainability of the program, three stores have been built in Nepal  and have their own wide reach  : My store is close to the road and it is easy to access for everyone. Therefore, customers come from villages such as Choprang, Phanjyang, Bhirkot, Pankhar, Nigalapani and  Majuwa says Anju.

While society does not encourage women to play an active role in their communities, their training has brought them together and they have become aware of their ability to change attitudes. Through this program, they become self-reliant business leaders; they set an example to follow for other women and future generations.

 

Women empowerment at the heart of social change

The fact that women, generally confined to the home doing chores, are able to gain such knowledge by going to Kathmandu on their own is a big step. This training has boosted my confidence in women: we can be technicians and business leaders.  While most households in Nepal display blatant gender inequalities, Anju Yonjan is living-proof that there are exceptions and gives hope in a change of mindset within Nepalese society. In her case, the support of her husband has played a key role in her ability to accomplish so much: I had no restrictions or family problems to deal with. On the contrary, my husband encourages me to keep moving forward and take part in projects that can improve women’s place in society. (…)  There have been disparaging comments from some villagers regarding my activities, but I’m convinced these will cease over time. (…) We all need light in our lives; we’ve never had such an opportunity before.

Their job as technician and business owner not only gives them skills that are economically useful, it also leads them to take on a more active role in reshaping Nepalese society. They endorse new responsibilities, sometimes politically: I’m on the administrative board of the Saraswati school. And I also act as secretary for the user group of the village road and development project, says Anju. She concludes: Still, what I’ve gained most from this training are the skills I have developed and not the wages I now receive”. Today, Anju is in turn passing on the experience she has received, which can benefit both her village and Nepalese society at large.

If you want to support her initiative and the villagers of Khadadev in Nepal, you can make a free donation or participate in Action for Karuna, movement of solidarity initiatives, and take part in a workshop. Visit our website for more info.