Nothing is Impossible: The Raising Her Voice programme in Nepal | Oxfam | Governance

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Women in Nepal experience discrimination in all areas of their lives. The goal of Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice programme is to ensure that public policy making reflects the interests of poor and marginalized women in the country, especially by increasing their participation and influence in community decision-making bodies that have a particular impact on their lives. This case study – one of a series of Programme Insights on Local Governance and Community Action – shows the remarkable success of the programme in Nepal in building women’s confidence, knowledge, and skills, so that they could bring about changes that have had a practical impact on the lives of all the people, and especially the women, in their communities.
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  1 ‘Nothing is impossible’ The Raising Her Voice programme in Nepal Community discussion class participants in Bardiya village talk about their plans for building a community clinic. Photo: Adrienne Hopkins/Oxfam   Women in Nepal experience discrimination in all areas of their lives. The goal of Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice programme is to ensure that public policy making reflects the interests of poor and marginalized women in the country, especially by increasing their participation and influence in community decision-making bodies that have a particular impact on their lives. This paper shows the remarkable success of the programme in Nepal in building women’s confidence, knowledge, and skills, so that they could bring about changes that have had a practical impact on the lives of all the people – and especially the women – in their communities.      P  r  o  g  r  a  m  m  e   I  n  s   i  g   h   t  s  2 Nothing is Impossible: The Raising Her Voice programme in Nepal Oxfam Programme Insights Introduction The programme is being implemented in three districts in western Nepal – Dailekh, Surkhet, and Bardiya – where women are particularly marginalized. ‘Though I had never ventured out of my village, I agreed to become the treasurer of the committee when my name was proposed. I no longer wished to remain in the dark. I didn’t know much about what I needed to do as a treasurer at that time. I felt like nothing is impossible. We can always learn new things if we are serious about it.’    –    Ganga Shahi, treasurer, Construction Committee, Baraha Village Development Committee, Dailekh.   ‘Gender-based discrimination is rampant in Nepali society. It affects all women, whatever their economic status, caste, ethnicity, or regional affiliation,’ notes the Nepal Human Development report. 1  While male literacy stands at 81 per cent, women’s is only 54.5 per cent, and in some lower-caste groups fewer than a quarter of women can read and write. Only 6 per cent of women own their own house and 11 per cent their own land. 2  As Priti Bhakta Giri, Village Development Committee secretary in Chhinchu, says: ‘Men take better care of their animals than their wives. They can get another wife, but they can’t get another buffalo.’ 3 It is not surprising then that it is difficult for women to speak out, let alone hold positions of authority. For example, in 1991 women held only 3.4 per cent of parliamentary seats. But things are slowly beginning to change. At national level, women now hold a third of seats in the interim Constitutional  Assembly.  4 The political situation in Nepal   And as the Nepal Human Development Report notes: ‘Broadening representation and participation has the potential to change power relations.’ It was this change that Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice programme wanted to support. During the past 20 years, Nepal has undergone major political changes. It has moved from being an absolute monarchy to a republic, from having an  3 Nothing is Impossible: The Raising Her Voice programme in Nepal Oxfam Programme Insights authoritarian regime to a more participatory governance system, from a religious state to a secular one, and from a centralized system to a more decentralized one. Parliamentary politics was reintroduced in 1991. However, poverty and inequality persist, caused by the concentration of power and resources within a small ruling elite built on systematic exclusion by caste, ethnicity, and gender. This situation led, in 1996, to a Maoist-inspired insurgency with an agenda of redistribution of wealth, development, and removal of discrimination. The conflict lasted for ten years and claimed 13,000 lives. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement in November 2006 paved the way for the Maoists to join the mainstream political process and to participate in the Constituent Assembly elections held in April 2008. But despite sweeping political changes, not much has changed for poor Nepalis since then, and the reach of government to remote areas is minimal. The process of decentralization that started with much fanfare a decade ago has remained stunted. There have been no elections to local government bodies for the past 14 years, so most decisions are taken by committees at local level – which are dominated by men. Underlying all this is the lack of settled democracy and political stability. Nepal is in transition, with no clear road map. The initial enthusiasm that accompanied transition is being replaced by frustration as the completion of the national Constitution, upon which elections are dependent, continues to be postponed.  4 Nothing is Impossible: The Raising Her Voice programme in Nepal Oxfam Programme Insights The Raising Her Voice programme ‘We learned a lot in implementing this programme. Not only the partners but staff members were also very committed. I learned a lot from the process and from the women themselves.’    –    Sandhya Shrestha, Programme Officer, Oxfam GB, Nepal. Raising Her Voice is a global programme, launched in August 2008 and running until March 2013, which promotes the rights and capacity of poor women to engage effectively in governance at all levels. Oxfam is working with local partners in 17 countries to influence public policy, decision making, and expenditure to reflect the interests of poor women and to overcome women’s exclusion from political, social, and economic life. In Nepal, Raising Her Voice is being implemented in three districts in the west of the country: Dailekh, Surkhet, and Bardiya. In these three districts, women are particularly marginalized. For example, a history of bonded labour in Bardiya contributes to the shaping of power relations, while women in Dailekh are subject to discriminatory traditions – such as being expected to sleep in the cattle shed during menstruation – which are only practised in the hill districts of mid- and far-western Nepal. The goal of the programme in Nepal is to ensure that public policy making reflects the interests of poor and marginalized women. Although the country has no elected layer of local government, management of many areas of service delivery has been devolved to community level. The programme therefore has aimed to increase women’s participation in four community decision-making bodies which have a strong impact on women’s lives: Community Forest User Groups, School Management Committees, Sub/Health Post Management Committees, and Drinking Water and Sanitation User Groups. Working in partnership Raising Her Voice has worked in partnership with three local NGOs and three national NGOs, which complement and reinforce each others’ work. They have all been involved from the beginning of the programme and have  jointly developed the strategies used. The work at national level has aimed to create an enabling environment for women’s leadership through capacity building, influencing quotas for women’s participation in decision-making structures, and influencing public opinion via the media. The national partners are the Women’s Security Pressure Group (WSPG), the Women’s Skills Creation Centre (WOSCC), and Radio Sagarmatha.  At local level, from the beginning, Oxfam took the decision to look for community-based partners with a particular commitment to promoting women’s rights. This involved an additional commitment to building capacity. The women in these organizations have often experienced gender-based violence and discrimination themselves. The three partners that were eventually chosen were: ã  The Women’s Empowerment Action Forum, Dialekh 5 ã  The Women’s Association for Marginalised Women, Surkhet; ; ã  The Tharu Women’s Upliftment Centre, Bardiya.
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