WOW’s annual list of Women To Watch 2023 puts the spotlight on inspiring women from different walks of life.
Sunita Dangol is the Deputy Mayor of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City. Petite in frame, she is a force to reckon with on the inside. In her current position, the former media person is prioritising introduction of e-governance to control corruption, encouraging active participation of women in politics, and making the KMC solution-centric.
Sunita has been a strong proponent of Nepal Bhasa and believes in compassionate leadership. Her entry into politics and her win to the seat of the deputy mayor were not without challenges and as a woman in a strong governance position, she has to often walk the extra mile to prove herself. And she does it with quiet dignity and determination to succeed. Predictably, the years ahead will only see her grow to greater position and meaningful progress in the political sphere. Sunita says, “To lead means to be compassionate, communicative and connective with people, rather than just placing orders from the top.”
Khusbu Oli is a feminist who believes that leadership should be about people rather than power. Khusbu is the Founder and President of Shelter Ashraya Nepal which envisions self-sufficient villages where everybody is self-reliant and employed. She is also a strong advocate of women’s empowerment regardless of economic condition, caste, creed, religion, and language so that they can lead meaningful and dignified lives.
Her political journey was deeply inspired by a book she read about Yogmaya Neupane. She talks about the book which depicts Yogmaya’s life journey and how she had the courage and willpower to fight against the injustices that were occurring in Nepal then. Having travelled through Nepal, she understands the lack of financial independence, identity and recognition for the hard work every woman faces. She knows what it means to be a Nepali woman in a strongly patriarchal society that fails to acknowledge women.
During her political campaign, Khusbu Oli took to the lanes and streets of her area meeting people, hearing their stories, talking, understanding and sharing their pain, laughing with them and finding ways to resolve their most basic issues. Although she did not win at the polling booth, she won hearts and, she has proved her leadership capabilities by her determination to make change. She is soon launching a project called “Political Literacy and Participation for Women of Nepal,” that aims to make women understand the importance and power of voting. She wants to contribute and impact the lives of people and establish herself as a strong political representative for the women of Nepal.
Trishagni wears the legacy of her hospitality business with a learned ease. She is also the Co-founder of Impact Hub Kathmandu, an organization that builds a sustainable ecosystem for impact entrepreneurship in Nepal.
On completing her education and gaining some work experience in the US, she returned to Nepal five years ago and decided to embed herself in her family business with the idea of inching towards a progressive Nepal. The North Star of her life is working toward a future where all genders are treated equally.
Trishagni understands her privilege and the opportunities that it provides her but she was not one to not think about how society and culture often traps and frames women with practices of marriage and reproduction. Men’s success is the succession they create to be inherited by another generation, but for women, the idea itself cannot be afforded as there is no mechanism for establishing her legacy.
Trishagni wants to be part of creating change through her work and her voice on social media so that the next generation of women can consider and create their own legacy. She believes that there is an alternative way of living and being an individual. She believes in equality and is determined to foster change towards establishing gender equity and equality.
She sheds light on how school education differs from real-world reality. Learning to unlearn and unlearning to learn is the new mantra. She knows that success is a big idea that runs along with failure. She practices inner introspection. She pushes her boundaries little by little every day.
Bhawana Shrestha is an educator who believes that finding a solution is more advantageous than blaming the system. Bhawana is the Co-founder of My Emotions Matter which was unveiled in 2018 as a lifelong mission to spread social-emotional learning in Nepal and beyond. She is currently investigating how emotional intelligence and educational leadership can help Nepal’s education in general.
Even as a child, Bhawana knew what she wanted. She did not have many opinionated female figures to look up to, and would wait months for magazines to learn the stories of women making a difference. Watching women journalists and change makers speak on television gave her determination for building her own path. She got into media but soon veered into a career in education that resonated better with her values. Her inspiration comes from her students as she sees them succeed in various fields.
Bhawana believes that the outcome of hard work does not happen overnight, it can take several years and it demands perseverance and dedication.
She says her life experiences make her the woman she is today. She has had to face her share of discrimination in the household, at the workplace, and even systemic injustices but she did not allow it to stop her.
Bhawana is currently completing her research project which delves into why it is critical to invest time, energy and effort, particularly for female leaders to reach their goals. She talks about how wellbeing can help grow female teachers, and in the future, she hopes to establish a fellowship focused on diversity, inclusion, gender, systematic injustices, and the importance of emotional intelligence.
Supriya Kunwar is a successful woman entrepreneur and the Co-founder and Managing Director of Gaas Baas Co, an affordable luxury hotel and Supper Club, a popular hangout in the heart of Thamel.
Even as a child, the bold diva knew she wanted a career in hospitality and that she wanted to be her own boss. She believes that she manifested her dreams, and that having similar interests connects you to a similar field of people. Supriya loves rock and roll music and it shows in her personality and the way she runs her business.
Highly independent, she believes that women must learn to take their own decisions regarding work, interests and life. She also believes that one has to be willing to work hard for what one wants and that nothing comes to you on a platter.
Owning a hotel was a childhood dream but now she wants to grow bigger and better as a person and as a professional, and she is not afraid of what it takes to build the life she wants.
Sikuma Rai is a multimedia storyteller who believes she can contribute meaningfully to society through her documentaries. In 2020, Sikuma produced her solo multimedia project “Come over for a drink, Kanchhi,” which won the Jury Special Mention Award at KIMFF 2020 and was nominated for the One World Media Awards 2021 in the short film category. She also organises events and workshops for young Nepali female filmmakers.
Her work in media has made her realise how little her community is represented in the media. She also talks about how a majority of people in the country always seek inspiration from outside but not from within themselves and their own culture and communities. She wants to explore the Nepali culture with in-depth understanding and change the way the foreign media projects Nepal.
Sikuma ponders about the glaring differences in people’s lives. She speaks about the technological advancement in the USA and the lack of network in rural Nepal. She questions how people are living in the same era yet their realities are so significantly different.
Sikuma is stimulated by new ideas and feedback that allow her to develop as a person. She finds inspiration in films and documentaries. She is especially thankful to her parents who are her biggest supporters, and have taught her about the importance of their indigenous culture. In pursuit of a meaningful filmmaking journey, Sikuma wants to ensure that stories from community find their place in global storytelling.
Pallavi Payal is a political researcher, Mithila artist and a feminist who believes that behind every successful woman, there is a community of women. Pallavi is the Program Officer at The Asia Foundation which works for gender equality, disability and social inclusion. As a Mithila artist, she is exploring ideas to reinvent this artform and make it more relevant to contemporary audiences. Asan artist, she shares stories of women’s empowerment and gives them agency. She raises issues important for the women of Madhesh such as the impact of the citizenship amendment bill on Madhesi women, the culture of silencing women, how patriarchal, misogynistic, and discriminatory mindsets affect women.
She also works to empower women leaders, especially Dalit women representatives at the local level, to support, mentor and form allies. “We go out of our way to find feminist icons, but we don’t see the internal battles that every female goes through in their home,” she states, pointing to the courage it requires for women in rural Nepal to find their voice and take on leadership roles.
Women attempting change is difficult, she says, but a man talking about it makes it more legitimate. Pallavi Payal wants to continue her fight against discrimination (for marginalised communities, minorities and women) even as she makes Mithila Art more mainstream and widely understood.
Susma Tamang believes in finding solutions rather than focusing on problems. Susma is the first Nepali to reach the finals and secure a silver medal at the Asian Boxing Confederation (ASBC) U-22 Men and Women Boxing Championship in Bangkok, held recently.
At 16, she was inspired to start boxing. She joined the Naxal Boxing Club and started to train. Her inspiration comes from her elder sister who is also a national boxer. Susma won the title of national player and best boxer when she was 17. In the under-19 category at the World Championship in Poland, she ranked among the top six players. She believes in hard work and the ability to learn from challenges and failures. She says nothing big can be achieved overnight; it takes time and immense hard work to accomplish a goal.
Today, she is seen as a role model. She is thrilled when young kids come up to her to ask about her work, and they tell her how she has inspired them. She recalls when the Prime Minister reposted her work on social media.
Susma is now working towards the World Championship and the Olympics; her dream is to bring home the winning titles, and to put Nepali female athletes on the global map.
Palesha Goverdhan believes that with instinct and determination, we can achieve anything. Palesha is the first Nepali Taekwondo player to win a gold medal at the Asian Youth Para Games in the below-58 kgs category. Palesha was born without a left hand. With great courage, she turned this disability into a strength, going on to become the first Nepali woman to win a medal at the Paralympics.
Growing up she felt the difference and feared that she was not good enough. But when she was introduced to the sport of Taekwondo, she found her strength and purpose. She is today a world-ranked international athlete who has competed in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics and the Asian Para Games. She attributes her performance and life decisions to Taekwondo athletes Jade Jones and Carmela Hartnett, as well as top architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Norman Foster. The latter as she is now also a student of architecture and engineering.
In a nation where sports is sacrificed at the altar of academic excellence, any news about success on the turf has to be treated as a system-altering result. Athletes with disabilities face additional challenges because they must overcome physical and mental limitations in addition to the sheer willpower required to overcome social stigmas associated with disability. Palesha has done it, and won. It required hard work and the ability to focus singularly on her goals. She now aspires to be a top-ranked architect in the world, as well as work for the upliftment of sports in the country.
Purnima Shrestha’s mantra for life is to chase her dreams. Purnima is a mountaineer and a photojournalist who also contributes to the New York Times. Photography inspired her to pursue a career as a mountaineer.
After returning from her first trek, she realised that this was what she was supposed to do. She climbed her first mountain, Manaslu, without any training in 2017 and Everest in 2018. In 2019, she climbed Ama Dablam and in 2020, she decided to climb the Annapurna. She trained for a whole year to finally become the first female, along with others, to climb Annapurna. In 2021, she climbed Dhaulagiri, which is the seventh-highest mountain in the world. By 2022, she had climbed a total of eight of the eight thousanders by conquering Kangchenjunga, Makalu, and Lotse.
Her inspiration comes from ordinary and simple people because it takes her back to her own roots. In the future, she plans to complete the 14 Peaks and K2.
Purnima says people often express disbelief when she talks about being a mountaineer; perhaps due to her petite build and unassuming persona. She is also questioned about her passion for climbing being a female. She retorts: “The mountain does not ask or care whether I am male or female”. Purnima exudes a silent resilience that comes through in her passion for photography and the mountains. She says people often don’t get that mountaineering is not as much about physical strength as it is about mindset.
Sanyukta Shrestha believes that it is the little moments that make the whole journey worthwhile. Sanyukta made her international debut designing couture gowns for the 1998 Miss World and Miss Asia-Pacific beauty pageants. She is a pioneer in sustainable bridal and eveningwear. Her first creation in her design career won a “Best Design Award” when she was just 17 years old in Nepal. Her love for ethical fashion began when she was 19 while volunteering at WOREC, a women’s rehabilitation centre in Nepal. She was offered the task of teaching deprived women in one of the remote villages of Nepal how to turn their gifted skill of hand-looming fibres into desirable fashion. She was mesmerised by the whole organic and intensive process behind it, and there has been no looking back since.
Since the launch of her first international sustainable bridal collection in 2011, made out of ground-breaking eco-friendly fibres such as milk, banana, hemp, wild nettle, and organic silk, an extensive range of her innovative gowns has been providing stylish options to women who care for people as well as the planet. The commitment to sourcing eco-friendly materials sustainably, along with her desire to support deprived women and provide fair trade work for marginalised communities, created a strong community and gave an innovative depth to what my brand represents, which keeps us moving forward.
She has been able to express her vision through fashion and translate her innovative ideas through her business. The things she wishes to see the change in fashion are mandatory legislation that allows only fair-trade work and the use of materials in the most sustainable way, which will create a strong community and give a positive depth to healthier fashion.
Mamta Siwakoti is recognised as the Digital Lawyer for the work she initiated during the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic and which continues to grow in popularity and viewership. Through social media platforms, she aims to educate the public on aspects of the law. She believes that it is important for citizens to be aware of the laws of the country and their legal and civic rights.
She got her lawyer license amidst the lockdown of June 2020; and instead of waiting for opportunity to knock on her door, she created her own. She suited up in her legal attire, shot a video on her phone explaining how one can become a lawyer in Nepal, and uploaded it on TikTok. This simple act gained thousands of views, and her viewers had more questions coming. She immediately decided to make the most of the social media platforms by setting up The Digital Lawyer. She chooses a wide range of legal issues to cover in her videos from current topics to cryptocurrency, voting, divorce, violence against women, animal rights, etc. Her videos are widely watched and she has successfully gained a following of 119,100 on TikTok alone.
Mamta however faces challenges when she comes across sexist remarks and sometimes messages of threat from people who think her videos are provoking women to stand for their rights. But she is determined not to stop any time soon as she pursues building a meaningful career.
Bhawana Raut is a political and social activist who challenges socio-political injustices and inconsistencies to make the government accountable for their actions. Bhawana is currently working as a Project Manager at LeadX Nepal.
In the beginning , Bhawana says there was a lot of anger inside her for the injustices that were happening around her. From gender equality and equity issues to objectification of women, from access to law, education and healthcare to the domination of men in politics and leadership roles across sectors, Bhawana wants to bring awareness on multiple issues that plague our communities and societies, not just raise awareness but build an ecosystem of solutions, especially in the political space. She questions why are women are discriminated while we live in a country that worships female Goddesses. Bhawana dares to question inequality and injustice, often being trolled and threatened for her outspokenness and ability to question age old systems and beliefs fearlessly. What her detractors need to know is that she is unstoppable, and not one to give up easily. There may be days when she feels subdued but she knows how to get back on her feet with the indomitable spirit of todays woman.