TOPICS: A light for rural Nepali women

Days before government minister Durga Shrestha updated a global meeting on Nepal’s efforts to improve life for its women, about two dozen village women celebrating graduation from a training centre danced, sang, staged a puppet play and, finally, accepted their certificates proudly from a local official. For six months, the women had lived in the hostel of the Navajyoti Women’s Training Centre in a quiet residential area of the capital Kathmandu, where they laboured daily to learn a vast range of skills and crafts that would help bring a new light to their lives. Most of the women are victims of violence.

Increasingly, Nepal’s rural women find themselves bewildered by the upheaval occurring in their families and villages. According to a recent report on people displaced by the conflict, “many women have become de facto household heads and are totally disoriented about how to manage their lives.’’ “There are many girls who have left the villages and continue to leave...most are not able to go home for fear of again being pressurised to join the Maoists and that their visit may escalate problems for their families,’’ adds the report by the South Asia Forum for Human Rights. But life for women in one of Asia’s poorest nations has never been easy. Seven hundred and forty women out of 100,000 die giving birth, and only 18 per cent of births are attended by a skilled practitioner. Seventy per cent of Nepali women 15 and over are illiterate; double the rate for Nepali men.

In Beijing this week, to mark 10 years since the World Conference for Women, Minister for Women Shrestha said it is clear the government is trying its best to translate its international commitments to women’s rights into reality. Navajyoti’s Sister Teresa told IPS that demand keeps growing for the centre’s six-month training programme. When the Sisters of Nazareth took it over in 1988 they accepted 10-15 women for each course. Now they take in 25 on a first-come-first-serve basis. Three sisters, two staff members and outside experts teach the courses, which include first aid, sewing and knitting. She says most graduates are very active in their villages. ‘’Either they form a women’s group where they can get the support of one another, savings and credit groups (or) they conduct training programmes for women, farmers, youth groups, etc.

“Though I can’t write but I can read and I can talk about my problems in front of people now,’’ says a graduate Deurupi Budamagar, 29. Her husband was murdered six years ago by security forces that took him away one day as he tended his potato crop. His family found his body in a field two days later; the army denied knowing about the case. The woman remarried and is now pregnant with her third child. Her current husband left his village fearing Maoists would force him to fight and plans to leave any day now to work as a labourer in a Persian Gulf country, following on the footsteps of thousands of poor Nepalis. — IPS