Women in Nepal: The Process of Empowerment Through the Eyes of Kavita
Kavita Thapa, a woman from an indigenous community in rural Nepal, opens her thoughts to us on society and the situation of women in Nepal. She had the opportunity to receive a scholarship to study at a university, receiving a master's degree in Norway, which lead her to a successful career. Kavita is the coordinator in the Nepal projects of solidarity foundation TAI, has her own foundation called Hamro Foundation, one of the owners and operators of Annapurna Eco- Village Resort and is the owner of the trekking company Dream Nepal Adventure. She tells us how achieving this empowerment and success as a woman in Nepal is far from easy. Living in a patriarchal and caste society, the simple fact of being a woman is enough reason to be discriminated against and to see one’s dignity reduced. Although this discrimination against women and the caste system is illegal, it continues to be the daily life of the majority of people in Nepal, especially in rural areas.
For Kavita, the most difficult challenge she has had as a woman in Nepal was convincing her family and society that she could do more than marry and be a restricted housewife without independence, because men are the only ones with the opportunity to study and have a job. "You always have to convince someone of what you want to do. However, currently the girls are also being educated. They are more interested in continuing to study and have a job and thus it is easier to convince the family, " Kavita informs us. According to Kavita, once Nepali girl gets married, she has challenges to keep her new family happy. House work, constant respect, and being on the lookout for their happiness is a requirement of a Nepalese wife. Women are told to not give a bad outward image, but receive not much in return. In rural areas, women that want to go outside to look for work are looked down upon because if they find a job and can talk to other men the outlook on them is immediately negative. "All the time you have to be aware of what they will say, how you dress, how you speak, with whom, etc. I had to face all these challenges, even having an education and the opportunity to study abroad. Then I asked myself, what about the women who have not studied and live in the rural area? " she tells us with worry haunting her eyes.
"First, we have to make them aware since most of them have not been educated and they live in rural areas," says Kavita with conviction. Women in rural areas also need education and skills that they can develop to be able to work, make money and have more independence since they are not able to go to the city and receive training. Then, if they are able to succeed in skill training, they can find a job, even work from home and possibly start a business of their own. It's a vicious cycle; if they cannot leave home alone they cannot learn a skill, which holds them back in life by only being able to work at home without any kind of independence. "That's why awareness is vital," Kavita reiterates. While talking to her about the process of empowerment, she says that she thinks that most women are stuck in different parts of the process because they depend economically on their husbands. If they want something, they always have to ask the family or the husband. They must convince them of whatever they need and without their consent, advancement is impossible. Because of this, men are important variables for the empowerment of women. "I think the biggest challenge is for them to convince themselves, because most of the time they think that they are the heads of the family." Kavita emphasizes that they have to realize that men and women are equal, while setting the example that each is a wheel of a motorcycle which need to cooperate and work together without discrimination or inequalities. If men realize in their hearts that we are all equally important that is when they can think that they are not the only sex capable of achieving greatness.
Kavita tells us how some men, even those with an education, have realized the injustices brought upon women, but do not want that equality. The reason is fear. They think that if women work outside and gain independence, they will have too much power. When you are a part of the sex that has consistently had power, one would likely to be afraid of losing it. On the contrary, Kavita tells us that not all men are like that in Nepalese society. "You can see it for example in my husband Purna. If he had not supported me throughout my empowerment process, I would not have been able to continue with my studies, work at TAI and start my own projects. That's why I can say that I am very lucky in general, and in Nepalese society in particular. " After some women are married outside of their castes in Nepal, they face many moments that highlight the discrimination between castes in Nepal. Women that belong to a lower caste than their husband are especially discriminated against. Kavita tells us a stories of these inequalities, one of which stood out to us. A woman that married a man in a higher caste have had issues with his family who thought they should not live together. In addition, the women in his family wanted her to work alone in the kitchen to make them food for everyone, but would not allow her to sit down to eat with all the family and friends. Some women have these problems, especially with older women. On the contrary, Kavita's husband Purna has always seen her as equal and has encouraged her to study and make a name for herself.
Kavita overcame the adversities and obtained very good results and was rewarded with a scholarship to study. "That is when I thought that I had had this opportunity, but that many other women do not have it, so I decided that I would go back to Nepal and do something for them." She tells us that she came back to do awareness work that was aimed at breaking down social barriers and spreading the awareness that if they were able to get a job they could empower themselves in their own lives. Kavita felt very fulfilled working with empowering women and decided to study Gender, received her Master’s degree in Norway. During her years studying, she realized that in families that were surrounded by commercial activity, women are more active and in turn more empowered. Because of this, she concluded that in order to encourage independence in women, she had to offer them some type of training for a skill which would enable them to make their own decisions about their future. "We have to encourage women to follow their path, not to give up. They have to realize their power," Kavita tells us with a glow in her eyes.
The new generation is changing more rapidly and is taking a more equitable growth path. When Kavita was younger, things were different. Right now the youth have realized that they can work hand in hand to achieve a more just society. They have begun to internalize equality, and girls in rural areas are more aware. This awareness is an amazing step in the right direction with its ability to show young girls that they can have and achieve dreams that reach further than being just a housewife. When we asked her about the work that the TAI Foundation is doing in this field, she answered that TAI is helping in many different ways. They help by empowering women through awareness and offering training in the development of different skills, teaching them that they are capable to do things without depending on their husbands. TAI is also helping children through the training of teachers in order to increase the quality of education. The economic support that TAI provides to families in situations of poverty and inequality gives them the opportunity to recieve an education. In terms of society, TAI thinks that by helping mothers, children will benefit from that change directly. The mother can earn money, so she can help her children to continue their studies.
With this great example of empowerment and resilience, we hope to release an energy of resistance and support, a call to brotherhood to all those people who struggle to achieve more equitable societies. We advocate for projects that empower women and show them the truth that no one is better than anyone else, that they have power and are capable of doing what they propose, without anyone's consent.