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WOMEN @ WORK

by Shreejita Chauhan

WOW – Women of the World – is a global movement that champions gender equality, celebrating achievements of women and girls everywhere and examining the obstacles that keep them from fulfilling their potential. It was first held in 2017 in Nepal. This year, the WOW Festival was held from April 15-16 in Lumbini.

WOW Magazine was commissioned by the British Council to identify and produce the digital content for the MARKETPLACE wherein we identified 15 women entrepreneurs from across the country with a focus on their business idea, their impact, and the effect of the pandemic on their ventures. In the last issue we had featured six women entrepreneurs and in this edition we bring the other seven.

The objective is to put the spotlight on and to amplify the voice of women entrepreneurs and producer groups.

Lumbini LEADS
Empowering Women through Tourism

Laxmi Chaudhary, being one of the few women who have had the privilege of education, felt a sense of responsibility towards other women who did not. As the coordinator of the Women’s Program at Lumbini Leadership for Empowered Aware & Developed Society, Laxmi strives to uplift the economic status of women that do not have the opportunity to earn. She not only promotes women-led businesses but also inspires and helps marginalised women become tourism entrepreneurs.

Her first project at Lumbini LEADS is at the Mayadevi Temple and allows women to work as tourist guides. She tells us, “A huge number of tourists visit Lumbini every year and it is an incredible opportunity for women to work as tourist guides. Having grown up in Lumbini, most women are not only familiar with the heritage site but are also aware of the history of Lord Buddha. We trained eight women to become efficient tourist guides. That is until the pandemic when number of tourists dropped drastically”.

Laxmi helps Tharu and Madhesi women in Mahilwar run a handicraft business based on their traditional skills of making dhakiya and mauni from grass.

From a very young age, Laxmi questioned the restrictions on women in her home. As she grew older, she saw the same restrictions everywhere around her. She understood that financial dependence was a major reason women were subjected to these restrictions. Laxmi chose to do something about it. She started by striving to empower the women of Mahilwar village in Lumbini stand on their own feet. Today, she helps Tharu and Madhesi women in Mahilwar run a handicraft business based on their traditional skills of making dhakiya and mauni from grass.

Through trainings and seminars, she has enabled many women hone their skills towards income-based activities. Today, she says, “I want to introduce the concept of homestays in the village. I am also planning on conducting more clean up campaigns and spreading awareness about eco-tourism.”

Devi Maya Gurung
Weaving A New Way Of Life

With impairment in her left limbs, Devi Maya Gurung, the President of Bhutanese Refugee Association of the Disabled (BRAD) embodies the saying ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’. At 20, Devi Maya fled Bhutan with her younger brother and encountered many challenges along life’s journey. Today, she is successfully leading a team of specially-abled refugees with the goal of making them financially independent.

Currently, there are over 6500 Bhutanese refugees in the two camps in Jhapa and Morang districts. Among them, the population of differently-abled is 418. “It is highly challenging for people like us to find a stable source of income,” shares Devi who made it her mission to empower them in her camp in Beldangi.

I am proud to say that under my leadership, differently-abled refugees have found a source of income and a strong voice in their community.

Devi Maya provides employment to ten such refugees by producing mudas and other handicraft items. “Initially people doubted our abilities and criticised our products.” But she persisted, built her sourcing network, collecting funds, and eventually running a successful business. Now she is a role model of persistence and courage. “I am proud to say that under my leadership, differently-abled refugees have found a source of income and a strong voice in their community,” says Devi.

The refugees at Beldangi camp were completely dependent on the UNHCR until a few years ago. But now, with disruption in funding, it has become necessary for everyone to find alternate source of income.

Lahar Srijana
Rediscovering Tharu Culture

Accounting for around 7% of the total population of Nepal, the Tharus have a unique culture that reflects their close connection to nature. While on a visit to a Tharu community in Nawalparasi, Pratima Thapa and Traudi Thapa got to learn about their culture, crafts and way of life, about a decade back. Realising that ethnic crafts of Nepal were dying, they co-founded Lahar Srijana with the aim of reviving the art and crafts of the indigenous communities of rural Nepal. Founded in 2012, Lahar Srijana is recognised for its efforts in preserving ethnic crafts and creating sustainable livelihoods for indigenous communities. Over 200 varieties of their products are available in the market today.

The commercialisation of Tharu crafts has enabled many Tharu women. Ganga Niure, Manager of Lahar Srijana shares, “Tharu women were hesitant to join us when we first shared the idea of starting a business by commercialising their crafts. They thought we were insane to think that people would be interested in buying their traditional rugs, sitting stools and mats made from elephant grass, hay and straw.” Now, they are empowered women earning for themselves and supporting their families.

Lahar Srijana is recognised for its efforts in preserving ethnic crafts and creating sustainable livelihoods for indigenous communities.

Lahar Srijana employs 16 workers and many of them have been associated since the inception phase. Manju Mahato shares how her life has changed once she joined the organisation, “I have been able to send my son and daughter to school and can now afford their education. They tell me about their dreams and I am working to turn those dreams into reality,” she smiles.

Purnima Devi Pathak
Promoting the Gift of Buddha

The number of commercial women farmers are on the rise in the country but they often fail to capitalise on their crops because they lack the neceassry skills to commercialise their produce. Purnima Devi Pathak is a farmer in Lumbini with no education but great determination. She started her business with limited resources. Born into a family of farmers, Purnima undestood the significance of Kalanamak rice which is unique to the region and considered to be the gift of Gautam Buddha. It is believed that Lord Buddha broke his fast by consuming kheer made from Kalanamak rice.

Despite the burdensome process of growing Kalanamak rice, Purnima is persistent in her efforts to promote the rice as she understands the importance of preserving local farming practices. “Many farmers in my village have stopped growing Kalanamak Rice because it takes more effort compared to growing other varieties of rice, but gives lesser produce,” says Purnima. According to the locals, if the same rice variety is planted elsewhere, the rice loses its aroma, making it special to the Kapilvastu region.

Only when all women farmers are educated and skilled at running a business will they be able to become fully independent and empowered.

Although Purnima is adept at farming, she struggles with the business aspect of it for which she seeks help from her husband and son. She says, “If I had proper education, I would have been able to do so much more.”
Purnima hopes that the situation of women farmers will improve gradually and she encourages the younger generation to get an education. “Only when all women farmers are educated and skilled at running a business will they be able to become fully independent and empowered,” she says.

Lukla Outdoor
climb every mountain

Founding Lukla Outdoor, a one-stop store for all outdoor clothing and gear, was a dream come true for four Sherpa women from Lukla. It all started in October 2019 when they realised that although many tourists come to Nepal for adventure tourism, there are very few outdoor clothing brands in Nepal that make quality products. With the aim to fill this gap and create pocket-friendly clothing, Lukla Outdoor produces high-quality, fabric-oriented outdoor products in their factory in Nayabazaar. The products are then sold in their outlets in Lukla and Kathmandu.

Chhechi, Manager and Marketing Head of the company says, “We focus on producing mid to high-range products that can withstand the cold climate of the Himalayas.” Although their main target are adults, they have recently started an outdoor clothing line for kids as well.

Our passion to do something with our skills is what motivated us to start Lukla Outdoor. We will continue working with the same passion and prove that women can do anything they choose to.

This relatively new venture has weathered many challenges, especially since Covid 19. The newly opened business was just gaining momentum when the pandemic hit causing an immediate slow down to their plans. However, the founders were unrelenting and made use of their free time experimenting with their product range and creating different prototypes.

As a part of their CSR, Lukla Outdoor sponsors various local sporting events and plans to train women in sports in Lukla. “Our passion to do something with our skills is what motivated us to start Lukla Outdoor. We will continue working with the same passion and prove that women can do anything they choose to,” concludes Chhechi.

Manjula Thakur
Reviving the Traditional
Mithila Art

Nepal holds a significant Maithili population accounting for around 3.1 million of the total population of Nepal. In the patriarchal Maithili community of Nepal, most women are confined to their households and restricted from working outside.

Married at the age of 12, Manjula Thakur had no idea that her Mithila painting skills would one day change her life. Manjula was just a child when she learned Mithila art and mud mural painting from her mother. It is a Mithila tradition to cover their homes in beautiful art, a tradition that Manjula carried to her new home after her marriage. “Some foreigners came to my village and asked if I could paint a wall for them in exchange for money,” recalls Manjula. That was the start of her journey as a Mithila art painter.

Today, Manjula is successfully leading the art department of Janakpur Women’s Development Centre. She is skilled not only in making mud wall murals but also at creating colourful Maithili paintings on paper and ceramics. Manjula says, “Mithila art is slowly dying. While all houses in the Mithila region used to be decorated with beautiful Mithila paintings before, now there are only a few that carry the tradition”. Manjula spends time teaching young kids in Janakpur the art of Mithila painting in hope of saving this beautiful skill and passing on her passion to the younger generations.

Through Janakpur Women’s Development Centre, Manjula has facilitated several trainings empowering many women to earn a living from their skills.

“My traditional arts have been displayed in numerous exhibitions in Kathmandu and abroad,” shares Manjula. She has also travelled to the USA and Spain to exhibit her works.

Radha Paudel
Is Green Menstruation Possible?

Radha Paudel was seven years old when she first noted the restrictions imposed on women for some days every month. Only when she had her first menstrual period at the age of 14 did she realise what these restrictions meant. Scared of being confined to a separate room like the women in her family, Radha was afraid to tell her friends and family that she had had her first period. And that fear, shame and dread associated with her period inspired her to become the strong menstrual rights activist she is today and the founder of a bio-degradable pad factory.

Her understanding of menstruation began when she started studying nursing after tenth grade. She understood that menstruation was nothing to be ashamed of but a simple natural process. In an attempt to make her parents understand, she started sharing what she learned at nursing school. Radha says, “For menstrual discrimination to end, it is important for people to understand why it happens. The status of women would be much better if the government addressed such issues.”

Despite being arrested twice for her activism, Radha is persistent. To strengthen health, education, human rights and sanitation in rural areas of Nepal, she established the Radha Paudel Foundation in 2016. Today, Radha is also a social entrepreneur running a bio-degradable pad factory in Chitwan.

For menstrual discrimination to end, it is important for people to understand why it happens. The status of women would be much better if the government addressed such issues.

Many women in remote places do not have the privilege of buying menstrual pads and resort to using old cloth. Her foundation has organised training on using reusable and biodegradable pads in Janakpur, Siraha and Bara among other places while raising awareness on the importance of menstrual hygiene.

Radha shares her thoughts on patriarchy, “Menstrual discrimination is a key factor in endorsing patriarchy. People also need to be made aware that traditional practices and restrictions cause health hazards. It is high time we implement new policies that enable women to have dignified menstruation.”

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