International Women’s Day 2021 – New Hope
Updated: Jul 18, 2021
It has been a year full of highs and lows. A little more than a year has passed since the Vice Chairs of core rural municipalities (RMs) working with the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP) met to discuss progress and challenges regarding gender issues in the project area (report available here).
One outcome was the Dhangadhi Declaration on Dignified Menstruation Management (DMM) and individual RM level DMM Directives, as well as preparation of DMM Manual for RMs. This was an optimistic moment.
Sadly, shortly after this meeting, COVID-19 spread globally, including in Nepal. This narrowed the opportunities for work in communities, due to fears of spreading infection.
We met on Zoom on the 5th March 2021 with some of the same Vice Chairs, and other staff of core RMs, to discuss their experience of the last year, and their plans for work with women in the coming year.
We also recently surveyed communities of their experience with COVID-19, and some of the specific impacts on women. The main worries expressed by women during the last year included:
Many migrant workers returned from India during the lockdown and there was a lot of concern that COVID-19 would spread widely in the community, especially in elderly women. However, in practice there haven’t been many severe cases in the project RMs.
Women’s economic condition suffered (and entire households), as there was an increase in unemployment and loss of remittances in the short term. In addition, the ban on collecting Yarsagumba (cordyceps sinensis) this year was a big blow.
Those women who returned from India felt very stressed about staying in the quarantine shelters due to the unsafe conditions. Men and women were sharing the same premises, and women felt vulnerable due to men drinking and fighting. In addition, women found it difficult to manage their menstruation in the quarantine. They usually didn’t have separate washing areas or access to MHM friendly toilets and had limited sanitary materials. Once the rules changed and they were allowed to isolate at home, the difficulties were relieved.
Schools were shut and women were very concerned about their children missing school for many months, as there are no opportunities to study at home or on-line.
The RM’s gender-related budget was not always spent on planned issues, as much of the RM budget was understandably diverted to COVID pandemic management. Some Vice Chairs reported their concerns that activities such as the adolescent girls’ program, Sutkeri koseli program (some materials given to postpartum mothers to maintain healthy habits and feed mother and baby), different day celebrations and other awareness campaigns, were hampered.
There was an increase in child marriage in some locations, when families in difficult economic situations became increasingly ready to marry off under-aged girls, in order to get the girls off their hands.
General community tension meant that gender-based violence seemed to worsen in some RMs during the worst of the COVID-19 restrictions (though perhaps not as severely as in larger cities).
The fear of the disease, especially in the first months, led to greater health risks due to community members being frightened or unable to seek medical attention. This included women who couldn’t access contraception or child vaccinations, or were forced to give birth at home.
The impact of COVID-19 has been mainly economic and social. Luckily, while there have been some cases of the disease, particularly among returnees, most have recovered.
However, the work of the RMs and of RVWRMP specifically with communities, and specifically with women, hasn’t stopped. Project activities in agriculture and water supply schemes continued. Menstruation Hygiene Management (MHM) and pad making training has continued at different levels, including mothers’ groups, ward level workshops, health post nursing staff, and to the Dadeldhura Hospital nursing staff. The project has introduced the topic of menopause to the MHM workshops – this is a topic not normally discussed in Nepal and women have appreciated having more information.
In addition, there has been a link to disability introduced – with the aim improving the lives of menstruating women and girls with disabilities. And in some RMs, women in quarantine were provided with sanitary pads and soap. Workshops on Women as Decision Makers have been held earlier to formulate Gender Responsive Plans and budgets at RM level, and follow-up has been given to ensure that these are incorporated in the seven-step planning process in the RM. Disability has now been added to the plans. During the last two months Gender and Disability Responsive Plan: Review and Planning Workshops have been held some RMs, and will take place in all the working RMs before the end of the financial year. Community members have been supported to celebrate international campaigns, with care given to hygiene and social distancing, such as Menstrual Hygiene Management Day and the ‘16 Days Campaign Against Gender Based Violence’. Despite the threat of COVID-19, women have continued to be actively involved in RVWRMP activities.
The great news is that all of the local government staff in Nepal have received their first vaccination against COVID-19, as have RVWRMP staff. While not 100 % protective, it is still an enormous relief and will support field work much more effectively.
We asked RM representatives what changes they have seen in women’s lives and how they plan to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD).
Ms. Dipa Pandey, Women’s Section Officer, Api Himal RM: “We have very little gender-based violence in our RM, compared with other locations. This year on IWD we will run a range of activities, including a quiz contest for school students and mothers’ groups, street drama and games. Since we have developed private taps in some locations together with RVWRMP, the household activities have become easier, and women have had more time to learn about sanitation, home gardening and irrigation. Therefore, health has also improved. Women have been trained to lead the community-level activities.”
Ms Bina Bhatta, Vice Chair of Pancheswor RM, said that this year “we are going to focus on women victims of violence in society. An honour program will start for women victims of violence, and we will encourage them with an awareness program.”
Ms. Sitha Thapa, Vice Chair of Gaumul RM: “In order to celebrate IWD, we normally invite women from all wards to the headquarters, however, being so far from the centre made it very difficult for women to reach in time. Instead, this year, we decided to go to every ward and conduct programs locally. We plan to conduct a program on domestic violence, asking the victims of violence to participate in the public awareness program.”
Ms. Jyoti Budha, the Women’s Section officer of Ramaroshan RM also noted that “RM personnel will visit all seven wards for IWD. Activities will include an awareness raising program, deudas and other cultural programs. Over the last year, gender-based violence cases have decreased. However, a three-day program will be organised to develop the knowledge and skill of women and youth groups about gender-based violence and other activities. By allocating budget, specific awareness will be raised on menstruation issues and the problem of trafficking of girls, which should be stopped very soon.”
Ms. Padam Kumari Bist, Vice Chair of Bhairabi RM: “Last year, there were no programs conducted for IWD, due to lockdown (COVID-19). But this year, we are conducting many activities in the RM. Every woman can express their feelings through the deuda program. There will also be a poem competition, with the theme of stopping chhaupadi use and child marriage. Women are knowledgeable and are willing to participate in many activities since becoming involved with the project. Even during the last year women have become stronger, more aware and educated in every aspect of the project activities. When RVWRMP assisted us to provide drinking water to every single household, it gives us more opportunity to improve livelihood activities, and means women don’t have difficult challenges like carrying water from very far sources any more.”
Ms. Kalawati Kumari Bhand, Vice Chair and Dalit Representative, Ajaymeru RM: “Nowadays Dalit and non-Dalit men and women have equal access to daily wage work, and Dalit participation is also increasing in development activities. This change can be seen in Dalit women in this RM. This year for IWD we are planning various types of activities for women at the ward level, so that it is easy for all women to participate. All wards are planning different awareness programs like rallies, deuda programs, and awareness activities to demonstrate women's rights and duties. In our RM, all women have been treated equally, without caste discrimination, during the implementation of RVWRMP activities.”
Ms. Meeta Manander, Women’s Section Officer, Alital RM: “This year on IWD we are going to honour 30 women’s groups for their good work facilitating women’s involvement in the RM. RVWRMP has been offering good opportunities for women to get involved, and local women are always enthusiastic to participate.”
Ms. Anita Bhandari, Women’s Section Officer, Shivnath RM: “We plan to raise awareness on women’s leadership during IWD. All the RM school students will be invited to participate in the quiz contest, including on issues of women’s leadership and gender-based violence. RVWRMP has facilitated earlier the Sasu – Buhari program (working to build solidarity between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law), and it has led to some improvements, but more work is needed.”
It has been a sometimes frightening year, but with the support of RVWRMP the elected representatives of the rural municipalities kept working with their constituents, and the good results were clear. The women of Sudurpaschim and Karnali Provinces, working with RVWRMP, are feeling more hopeful for the year ahead, and are ready to celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th March!