There is still so much in the world worth fighting for. So much that is beautiful, so many wonderful people working to reverse the harm, to help alleviate the suffering. And so many young people dedicated to making this a better world. All conspiring to inspire us and to give us hope that it is not too late to turn things around, if we all do our part.

Jane Goodall

International Women’s Day, March 8, is a time to renew the inspiration we receive from those who fight for gender equality. It is a time to remember all that has been done and continues to be done so that women can determine the shape of their own lives and that respect becomes a universal value. This day of gathering, commemoration and collective imagination creates the possibility of a fairer world. We can be infused by the influence of women who make their own way, those who speak out, who care for themselves and those around them, and who create change and persevere. 

A framework for women’s empowerment

Women are the first creators of their emancipation. They know what they need and how to take action to make it happen. Listening is therefore at the heart of Karuna’s program development practices.

During the initial phases of intervention, our teams encourage people to speak out by organizing sessions to discuss the needs of all the members of a village. Villagers are gathered in several groups, some mixed and others separated by gender. Gendered groups are essential as they allow women to speak honestly in complete confidence and without social pressure. The villagers then come together to share the conclusions of each group. This ensures that everyone understands the issues important to other community members. The village’s priorities are ranked collectively and solutions are discussed by the whole group.

Following the collective identification of needs, Karuna’s role is to support the decisions women take so that they can reveal their full potential and succeed in their journey.

The combination of attentive listening and support is an essential framework for empowering women. With this help, they are able to break free from the social roles assigned to them that constrain their voices, their choices, and their independence. The unpaid work of a housewife creates financial dependence and an imbalance of power in household decisions. In 2020, 60% of working age women (15-59) in India were  full-time housewives. The association takes these dynamics into account, so that our projects do not reinforce the inequities, and where possible we reduce them.

Karuna-Shechen’s intention is to provide an environment in which each person, and particularly each woman and girl, can make decisions that affect their lives, and have access to the resources to implement those decisions.

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Women become agents of change

Karuna-Shechen invites women to take significant leadership roles in the projects. Not only do they have a privileged role in identifying needs, but they are also encouraged to take part in the management of projects. Women are always part of local project management committees – including finance – which are always made up of one man and one woman.

To ensure that women can be financially empowered, the association develops professional and educational opportunities for them.

The Small Business Support program helps villagers to start their own businesses. It is primarily women (80%) who take advantage of these interest-free loans ranging from 1 to 15,000 rupees (1 to 240 USD). The first loan is covered at 50% by Karuna, which allows women entrepreneurs to launch their own businesses with less risk. The repayment period is flexible, according to the principles of humanity that characterize the association. The businesses launched are diverse, ranging from street food to grocery stores, from handicrafts to cosmetics. To date, most of the 471 loans granted in 2022 in India have been repaid in just six weeks.

Support women entrepreneurs
of the Small Business Support Program

Karuna Shechen supported me in producing Muri (puffed rice). I started selling the puffed rice and it helps me run my household. I am happy to do this small business because I make money and I am able to provide my children with proper food, helping them stay healthy. I make puffed rice every day and with that I help my children in their studies. 

Purvi Mandal

A change in the way society and women look at themselves

Offering opportunities succeeds, only if women want and feel capable to seize them, and are not prevented from doing so by external constraints. It is therefore important to change the way women view themselves, as well change the way women are viewed. Karuna’s activities encourage dialogue to raise awareness. We also rely on inspiring role models: the emancipation of one person has positive repercussions for the whole community, in a transgenerational way.

Karuna’s programs highlight the journeys of women that show the possibility and the joy of charting one’s own course. In truth, all women chart their own course, even when it appears conventional. 

For a year, I have been employed as a vet technician. I used to be merely someone’s daughter-in-law, but now everyone knows me as a veterinary technician and I have my own identity.

Nabina Tamang, vet technician at Karuna-Shechen Nepal
Discover Nabina Tamang‘s portrait

The images of adulthood are set in childhood – and this is why it is crucial to promote values of equality and altruism so that they become second nature. This is true in our fields of intervention, but also in the rest of the world. Confidence in women’s ability to flourish is passed on from generation to generation, through the memory of the past and the inspiration of renewal.

Karuna creates educational programs to raise awareness of equality and compassion among children and young adults. It is important that young people be made aware of, and be concerned, about these issues. In our Better Living Option Program in Nepal and India, teenagers discuss the physical, mental, emotional and social changes that occur during these formative years. Issues such as gender and sexual violence, alcohol use, dropping out of school, gambling, addiction, self-esteem, values, family dynamics and many other topics that teens might need. Addressing these difficult topics in adolescence helps prevent the development of bias and violence, both towards oneself and towards others. It also has a very positive impact on young people’s perception of women.

I am aware that women face many barriers in our culture. It’s not fair, and I believe that everyone should be treated the same. Women should be treated with respect and given the same opportunities as men. They are just as capable and hardworking, and they deserve to be valued for their contributions to our society.

Lachhin Tamang, Chamradevi Secondary School
Encourage dialogue for teenagers to have
better living options

Women are sources of inspiration

At Karuna-Shechen, we are inspired by the women who are partners in our projects, and the way in which they contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty in their communities. Inspiration is crucial to motivate each of us to take action and imagine new solutions. Rather than relying on indignation, we make wonder our primary guide for action.

Discover our article on inspiration: inspiration, a source of hope