Properly trained, women in rural areas can emerge as the forceful elements in poverty reduction strategy.
Poverty reduction is the major objective of the Tenth Plan (2002-2007) of Nepal. The Plan makes an ambitious but urgent target of reducing poverty level from 38 to 30 per cent by the end of the Plan period and to lay the groundwork for further reduction of poverty ratio to 10 per cent in fifteen yearsâ€™ time. While the targets are absolutely ideal and desirable, however in view of the prevailing domestic situation and political impasse, it will be daunting and challenging tasks to achieve those targets. Nevertheless, one has to be optimistic and hope that the nation will be extricated from the present mess and political fiasco and things will have to be better some day, hopefully soon, so that people would begin nation-building with concerted efforts from all sections and corners.
It is obvious that the past fifty years of planned development process did not embrace all sections of the nation. Poverty remained pervasive and it actually worsened in some quarters and geographical areas. So new ways and strategies are being evolved for poverty reduction and national prosperity. Attempts are being made to strike at the root causes of poverty and deprivation. Development activities are undertaken at the door steps of the expected beneficiaries with their active involvement in planning and implementation stages. Communities and local level organisations are overseeing the programme implementations. In these endeavours of poverty alleviation, the neglected groups like the poor and ultra poor, Dalit and other weaker and vulnerable groups are specifically targeted as expected beneficiaries.
One of the most important parts of the population, but rather neglected in the past is the women, specially the rural women â€” whose contributions are enormous and the potentialities for contributions to economic activities are equally vast. However, due to various constraints women in general and rural women in particular have not been able to build up their capacities for fuller productive contributions in formal economic activities. As poverty is closely associated with lack of opportunities or access to facilities that improves knowledge and skills and is very difficult for rural woman to access resources such as land, credit, agricultural inputs, technology and other services, their productive capacities have remained limited and unrecognised. But they have tremendous potentials and need to be harnessed through appropriate education and training, especially through entrepreneurship building. If properly trained not only in basic tools of entrepreneurships but also in some other occupational as well as leadership, communication and organisational skills and further inculcated with the spirit of self-esteem and self-confidence, women in rural areas can emerge as the forceful elements in poverty reduction strategy.
Nepal remains in an initial stage of market-based economy, and for a long period of time remained state-dependent with inadequate opportunities for individual entrepreneurship and initiatives. In the past, the private sector remained weak and limited in fostering economic activities. However, it is now expected that the government will vigorously pursue private sector-led development, with good macroeconomic management, trade and investment policy reforms and good quality infrastructure and services. In this process, the emergence and strengthened role of entrepreneurship becomes indisputably critical in accelerating economic growth and expediting poverty reduction. The entrepreneurs, men or women, are considered to be the instruments and initiators of economic change and social transformation and thereby contribute to national prosperity. Especially in the current age of increased integration of markets, enterprises need to be created and be fostered to improve their effectiveness and efficiency continuously, in order to sustain in the competitive global, regional and national settings. This calls for concerted national effort with public-private sector cooperation so that the development and continuous improvement of entrepreneurial skills and competencies could be attained. It is equally important that women become a part and parcel of this process and be able to contribute to the overall development process of poverty reduction.
Today, gender equality is universally attempted; however, in environment like ours, inequalities are found in regard to opportunities, especially access for women, when it comes to the establishment and running and managing of enterprises. Women have fewer opportunities to start their own business due to gender specific barriers in access to information, networks and collaterals. This restricts them either directly in pursuance of establishing an enterprise, or, indirectly through the societyâ€™s perception of gender roles. Furthermore, in Nepali culture women are still restricted to domestic work. Their potentialities for business development remain suppressed and unrecognised. As a result, women are under-represented in entrepreneurial base of the country. This is specially the case in the rural areas, where poverty is wide and pervasive. Therefore, it is highly essential that any effort for poverty reduction must include promotion, development and strengthening of entrepreneurial instinct and skills among women, not only as a significant tool for their empowerment but also as a force for rural development and poverty reduction.
Dr Dhungana is a retired UN official