Women are Claiming their Rights
"Women secure representation on Shiva Shaktiswori Community Forest Executive Committee after speaking up for their rights."
"Public hearing / public audit in Anantapur Community Forest recovers NRs. 11,464.00 of embezzled funds."
It is not often that we read headlines like these, although this type of news is not uncommon in places where the Hariyo Ban Program consortium partners, CARE Nepal and FECOFUN, have set up Community Learning and Action Centers. The centers provide an informal platform for rural women from (mostly) marginalized communities to unite and organize, enabling them to take a leading role in local social transformation.
"The centers have helped to build solidarity among women from marginalized communities. The women can share their concerns at the center and decide how and where to voice their issues. They can then work collectively to address those issues. The learning from this process has enabled many women to take on leadership roles in Forest User Groups,” says Shikha Shrestha, Gender and Social Inclusion Coordinator for the Hariyo Ban Program at CARE Nepal.
Community Learning and Action Center (CLAC) initiatives target poor and vulnerable communities at the Village Development Committee level. Communities carry out a Participatory Well-Being Ranking to identify ultra-poor households who are then invited to participate in the CLAC. A Hariyo Ban Program trained local resource person facilitates sessions for the first 16 weeks before handing over to a community-based facilitator.
Sessions focus on raising participants’ awareness about their rights, duties and responsibilities. This is achieved through the discussion of various issues such as biodiversity conservation, sustainable landscape management, climate change adaptation, gender and social inclusion, good governance, livelihood improvement, public health, and psycho-sociological health. These discussions help participants to identify local problems and to form plans of action to address them. Center members have initiated a wide range of campaigns to improve forest management, plantation, and forest patrolling. They have also launched anti-poaching campaigns, forest fire control initiatives, clean-up campaigns, and drives to improve reproductive health.
For the Hariyo Ban Program, Community Learning and Action Centers provide a practical forum through which vulnerable communities can organize and mobilize around issues affecting their lives and livelihoods. This in turn can lead to the empowerment of participants and to collective social action.
Demanding What’s Ours: Center Members Claim their Rights
Tired of the lack of access to health services in the area, members of the Pachakanya Community Learning and Action Center (CLAC) initiated by FECOFUN took their demand for a health post to be set up straight to the District Health Office in Dhading. They also requested the District Agricultural Office to provide training on growing and maintaining a kitchen garden. The health post has now been approved and community members have participated in a 3-week kitchen garden training program.
In another example of proactive social action, members of Shiva Shaktiswori CLAC in Bara called on Benipakha Community Forest User Group to implement the provision in the Community Forestry Development Guidelines 2065 BS that states that women should have 50% representation in executive committees, and either the chairperson or secretary should be a woman. Following a general assembly meeting, 6 women were elected to the user group’s executive committee, with two in key positions. There had been no women on the Benipakha executive committee before this milestone vote.
A CLAC based in Shiva Shaktiswori Community Forest in Bara district has enjoyed similar success. Following pressure from center members, the all-male executive committee held fresh elections, following which Ms. Pabita Kafle was appointed to the post of secretary.
"Earlier I used to hold the position of treasurer in Shiva Shaktiswori Community Forest. I was responsible to handle the user group's finances but had no control over the amount I signed on checks. Checks used to come to me with the amount already filled. If there were any discrepancies, I knew very well I would be responsible but when I asked questions, they were not entertained. Recently after understanding about the percentage of female representation in the executive community through discussions in CLAC, female members demanded re-election. I showed interest in the position of Secretary and women supported my decision. The male members of the user group however wanted to find someone else. I felt very discouraged but with constant pressure from CLAC representatives and because they could not find another woman well enough educated to hold the position, I was elected Secretary. It has only been two months since my election. I am slowly learning and being more aware about the provisions in the community forestry development guidelines. I want to see that they are followed properly. I have now become more aware about my rights, hence the men members do not direct me as they used to earlier when I was in the treasurer position." - Ms. Pabita Kafle, Secretary, Shiva Shaktiswori Community Forest.
Read more stories about the resourcefulness of Community Action and Learning Centers:
- Restoring Forests and Adapting to Climate Change - One Step at a Time
- Public Hearings and Public Audits Helps Minimize Corruption
- From Community Learning Action Center to Savings and Credit Co-operative
By Pallavi Dhakal, Communications Officer, Hariyo Ban Program, WWF Nepal
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Disclaimer: The Hariyo Ban Program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this article are the responsibility of WWF and its consortium partners and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.