Ever heard of the saying, ‘When you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation?’
Quotes that glorify women are plenty, however, the reality of women especially in the rural areas of Nepal is quite different. Most women in rural Nepal depend on forest resources for the well being and livelihoods of their families. Inequitable distribution of rights, resources and power, and repressive cultural norms constrain women, poor, Dalit, indigenous and marginalized communities from fully engaging in and benefiting from natural resource management. To make matters worse, gender-based violence (GBV), caste-based discrimination including untouchability, exclusion from natural resources management groups, unequal wages, lack of dignified menstruation and menstrual hygiene facilities create additional barriers for community participation and decision making for women and girls.
In order to bring about some transformation in this tale, the Hariyo Ban Program has brought into place Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) as a key cross-cutting programmatic approach, helping empower both women and men challenge deeply rooted inequalities.
So, what exactly is the program doing for its women?
Formation of learning centers, internalization of GESI in major policies and conservation strategies in Nepal to name a few are some of the ways in which the program has been engaging to give women a voice and increase their participation in managing their land and water, the nature to which they belong.
POWER TO EMPOWER
The Hariyo Ban Program has formed and mobilized Community Learning Centers (CLACs) across the Terai Arc and Chitwan-Annapurna Landscapes with the aim of motivating men and women voice their opinions, influence decision making process and increase the participation of marginalized groups in household, community and formal group activities. These forums bring together marginalized and disadvantaged groups and individuals and educates them to help them identify, analyze and take actions on issues related to Natural Resources Management (NRM). So far, 518 CLACs with 16,633 members have been formed and mobilized in TAL and CHAL landscapes.
BY THE VIRTUE OF INCLUSION
The Program has played a vital role in integrating GESI as a critical element in various strategies and plans. Some of which includes the Terai Arc Landscape Strategy and Action Plan, National Ramsar Strategy and Action Plan among others. The icing on the cake is the integration of GESI as its eight pillars in the Forest Sector Strategy. Furthermore, the GESI Analysis and Action Plan developed in Phase II of the program is constantly updated based on the progress made, gaps identified, and plans required to address them along with a regular review of the recommended actions.
HELPING THEM HELP THEMSELVES
To help reduce the dependency on forests, the Hariyo Ban Program provides skill-based trainings to local communities to help them set up small, medium and large-scale enterprises. Women from local indigenous and Dalit communities in parts of the Chitwan buffer zone have started a wool-spinning enterprise as an alternative to firewood collection. Under the livelihood support program, 120 women in the area have received skills and a spinning machine. Subsequently, building on the traditional skills of Dalit women in the Marsyangdi basin, the program has helped set up small-scale necklace enterprises, leveraging on the local women’s’ skills to make clay jewelry. Tharu Sanskriti Atithi Griha; a homestay run by 29 indigenous Tharu women in Kawaswoti, Nawalparasi is another example of how the program is helping women by creating alternate livelihood options for them. As of now, 525 women entrepreneurs have received different skill- based training while three solely women-led enterprises have already been established.
These recognitions and approaches initiated by the program have not only empowered women but have also enabled them to challenge the ad-hoc and create healthy futures for themselves, the next generation and their environment.