Empowering women in Nepal
Empowering women in Nepal
We have been committed to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls since our inception. We have helped to lower the barriers women face in accessing information technologies, a quality education, and training programs that focus on their needs and aspirations.
Our first empowerment initiative was the student scholarship program. We have awarded hundreds of scholarships to economically and socially disadvantaged children to help lower the barriers they face in accessing a quality education. Around 65% of the general scholarships were awarded to girls. Our prestigious Anne van Riel Scholarships were awarded exclusively to girls who faced significant obstacles that affected their education, and who showed dedication to their studies. The program also had the commitment of teachers and community leaders who mentored and supported the girls and encouraged them to achieve their best at school.
We have also contributed to women’s empowerment through our technology for leadership, education and entrepreneurship programs. Although our primary focus has been on education in rural schools, we also recognise that women have a key influence on decisions in the family that have an impact on the well-being and development of children. By supporting women, we have not only worked towards their empowerment, but also helped to create a positive future for their children.
As discussed earlier, in the Dhital VDC, we managed a two-year project to deliver digital literacy training workshops to local women that focused on their needs. The workshop introduced participants to computer technology, essential software for business and personal use, email and communications programs, and how to access information on the internet. This program was developed in conjunction with Microsoft Nepal and the Astam Women’s Group.
In the Hemja Municipality, located near Dhital VDC, we installed a new computer facility at the Hemja Women’s Cooperative building. The group supported around 1,000 women in the area and we provided a similar training program with ongoing support to their facility management team.
Our team visited the cooperative eight months later to conduct a follow-up assessment of our project. The computers have become a valued resource for the group, so much so that the sewing machines used to teach women tailoring skills for generating income, had been moved to the basement to make way for more computers donated by the government. We observed student members searching for information for their assignments using Google, middle-aged women accessing their Gmail accounts, and business owners producing advertising materials and menus on Microsoft Word.
We were encouraged by the determination shown by the women to make the technology work for their purposes. They wanted to develop their skills to increase opportunities for securing work and to promote their businesses, as well as to communicate with clients, friends and family.
Given the success in Dhital and Hemja, we responded favourably to an appeal made by the Pragati Women’s Cooperative for an ICT program in the Syangja District. As discussed below, we installed a computer facility at the Cooperative building and worked with its management committee to develop a training program that would best serve the needs of the organisation and its members. The result was an intensive two-week workshop that focused on developing the ICT skills of participants and introduced them to technology-enabled business and learning opportunities.
Participants were divided into three daily shifts to ensure that participants were able to receive individualised assistance. Our training coordinator and one of our Board members, Sudip Aryal, said “it was a touching moment to see local women curiously learning computers who have managed to join the class after completing their regular agriculture work in their field. I am very happy to have dedicated my time to the training to help them realise their aspirations.”
Over the years, we have seen the rise of Facebook in Nepal to become an important tool for communication. In 2018, the Kathmandu Post Newspaper reported that social media marketing had become an effective way to promote products and services on a small budget with high impact, thanks to a rapidly growing number of social media users in the country.
In both the Dhital and Syangja training programs, we helped participants sign up for a Facebook account and provided guidance on how to best use the platform for business purposes.
We were also able to show participants the importance of Facebook for personal use. Many Nepalis have sought employment abroad, and international labor migration has become a major way for individuals to support their families. Overseas workers are in the millions and the money they send home accounts for one-quarter of national GDP. Facebook has become an important way for families to stay connected.
During one of the Pragati workshop sessions, Kamala Poudel (50), cried after adding her son to her newly created Facebook account. She was able to talk with him via Messenger for the first time. Her son, who was in Dubai at the time, was surprised to see her friend request and replied “what will you do with Facebook Mum?” Her reply was “talk to you of course!” Kamala said “it is a common situation that many of our family members and relatives are outside Syangja District or even outside Nepal. So I will now use Facebook to communicate with them from time-to-time.”
At the conclusion of the workshop, the Cooperative management reported that they felt more confident of managing their micro-finance operations using the computers. They were able to write letters and prepare reports in Word, create bills in Excel and make presentations in PowerPoint. They were using the facility to access information, use the computers as an e-library resource, and communicate more effectively using Gmail, Facebook and Skype.
When we first met Tara Aryal, Pragati Coop President, in 2014, she said in frustration “every time that we want to do something, we are always asking men for help.” Her words resonated with the Logged On team and we had discussions about how we could help address Tara’s concern. We were able to respond in two ways.
Firstly, through confidence building program. At the end of the two week ICT workshop, our training partners the NRIDS took the opportunity of adding a short community leadership program where a number of prominent community members engaged participants in interactive confidence and community-oriented skills building exercises. They also reinforced the importance access to information technologies was for independent life-long learning, business and networking opportunities.
Secondly, by presenting an opportunity for the Cooperative to be visible agents for positive change. In 2018, we were able to secure funding and Australian volunteer help for a community project (discussed in the next section). We asked the Cooperative if there were any pressing problem in the local community which we could help solve which would benefit the local children and community as a whole. They identified a community health project and the need for the construction of a communal latrine and wash facility in a nearby village. We accepted their proposal and asked them to take a lead in the community consultation and decision-making process. The project was successfully completed in 2019, largely due to their management efforts.