Nepali women have played pivotal roles in various initiatives across communities throughout the country. Their participation has been significant to foster social and community development as they have worked across different fields from building collectives to protecting nature. The blog discusses three cases that are evident to show how women have been the drivers of community changes in Nepal.
Women as Community Forest Preservers
Nepal has been implementing the community forestry program for more than four decades. The program, initiated in the late 1980s, has been able to grow with 22,266 community forest user groups throughout the country. Earlier, policy provisions advocated for 33 percent participation of women within the community forestry programs. While their participation saw a slow start in the beginning years, it has now surged beyond expectation in the Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs). According to Pandey and Pokhrel (2021), after the amendment of the policy provision from 33 percent to 50 percent of women’s participation to be in the executive committees of the CFUGs, the women’s proportion significantly increased beyond 50 percent to date. This shows that women have been leading the efforts to manage and conserve forests across their communities in Nepal. However, given their role as primary users and their participation in natural resource management, the question remains on opportunities provided to them for proactive executive leadership roles within the existing user committees.
Women as Female Health Care Volunteers
The Female Community Health Volunteer (FCHV) program was initiated by the government of Nepal in FY 1988/1989. These volunteers throughout the last decades have been at the forefront to provide essential basic health care services such as family planning, polio campaigns, maternal and child health programs, immunisation programs, and health education, to name a few. More than 50,000 women across the country today serve as volunteers and act as a bridge between families, communities, and public health facilities. Nepal’s advancement in health, especially in meeting the MDGs and SDGs, can largely be attributed to the proactiveness and consistent contribution of these women. Efforts for polio eradication and other initiatives have been successful through their local leadership. Their contribution to reducing maternal mortality (MM) in Nepal can be taken as an example. MM reduced from 539 in 1996 to 239 per 100,000 live births in 2016. To make this possible, FCHVs have acted as the closest contact in communities and are comparatively affordable for disadvantaged communities which makes them the easiest to reach for services and referrals. Moving forward, it is most important to better recognize their contribution and plan incentives for their continuous participation.
Women as Community Organizers
Ama Samuhas – also known as Mother’s Groups – are the informal organizing of women across grassroots communities in Nepal. Women voluntarily come together to create platforms for dialogue, initiate social awareness programs, organise cultural events, and create mutual funds. They have become the quickest and easiest contact mechanisms, especially for women, during times of difficulty. These groups, majorly, led by women and mothers, give them ample opportunities to form collectives for larger community welfare. They have been successful in creating safe communal platforms where they can exercise power and experience a certain level of independence and autonomy. They especially organise to raise awareness against social issues in their localities that otherwise hamper their basic rights. Additionally, these women also contribute to infrastructural development by leading and assisting in construction and repair works. Hence, with changing scenarios, mother’s groups have also adapted themselves to the local prevailing situations and contributed to diverse needs on issues ranging from infrastructural development to social reforms.
Women and their activeness in local community initiatives have in such ways been remarkable. Nepali women, despite the engraved patriarchal values of Nepali society, have defied the odds and been present at the forefronts of change time and again. The leadership roles that they have showcased have undoubtedly inspired the next generation of young people, especially women, and girls. It is now also our responsibility to acknowledge their leadership, provide what they deserve for their efforts, and better plan the continuation of what they have initiated.
This blog is a part of NIPoRe’s blog series on International Women’s Month 2023.