Missing voices

  • Nepal is making progress in achieving gender parity but continued awareness is needed
- Tinusha Ghimire

Mar 8, 2016-

During our recent visit to Sindhuli to survey upstream and downstream water use and management linkages, we held many discussions with the villagers. In one discussion there were six women and 33 men. In two of five discussions, there were no women at all. And in the ones where women were present, most of them left in between conversations.

These women certainly knew about the crops they planted each season 

and the number of springs that were there in their village. They knew just as well as the men how the river water was used and the benefits of proper water management, but their voices were absent from the exchange. 

In Bhaseshwor, no women participated in the discussions. Some sat in the background occasionally just inquisitive to know what was happening. But the 

women’s knowledge on water shortages and its effects was evident when we reached out to them—they felt spring water was getting wasted and that it should be stored for later use. All were aware of the community’s seasonal crops and irrigation methods. 

Earlier, when we walked into the village, the women had seen us and were curious as to why we came, but they did not approach us. When we questioned them as to why they did not come forward to talk to us, although it was evident they wanted to, they said they were concerned about what other people might say. Some might accuse them of being too forward or inappropriate. When we inquired about their low-participation in discussions, one woman replied that “if we were encouraged to be vocal from a young age, we would have been more comfortable participating in such discussions.”

Another woman shared her discomfort speaking to our group. “If there were more women, we would have obviously come to greet you on the road, as it might be about women’s issue,” she said. Would more women researchers yield more active participation from women? My male colleagues agreed that in their experience this was indeed the case. 

In Ratanchura, two young, educated, unmarried women gave their opinions on water shortage. Surprisingly, they left in the middle of the conversation. Later, I found them sitting at the foot of a hill. When asked why they left, they said they only joined because one of the male teachers had asked them, but during the conversation they felt they did not belong—they were not in the local water or irrigation group. 

We must address the root of the problem by changing the thinking of our youth. Creating more platforms where girls and boys are encouraged to engage in conversations and resolve problems together and learn to become leaders and followers. Early intervention will, in the future, provide equal space for missing female voices in our communities and bring us closer to achieving gender equality.

The young women wanted to be involved in the water group, but they were refused membership because young women are expected to get married early and leave, so replacing them with a new member would be difficult. Both women wanted to further their education, but due to the water shortage, their mornings were now devoted to collecting water making attending class difficult.  

In Bhimeshowre, a conversation about the absence of women with a male participant revealed that the meeting was ad-hoc—it had not been mentioned that women should attend. “If it were planned well, then more women could have been informed that they needed to attend,” he said. The fact that women’s participation had to be specifically mentioned for them to be included in the discussions surrounding their community shows there is an underlining problem to address.

Since 1914, International Women’s Day has been celebrated on March 8. It is a day celebrated around the world to reflect on the progress and challenges for women’s rights. This year United Nations theme, ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality’, strikes very close to the experiences in Sinduli.  With a woman President, a woman Speaker of Parliament, and a higher literacy rate for women than ever before, Nepal is making progress but continued awareness is needed.

Ghimire is a Gender Associate at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) 

Published: 08-03-2016 09:21

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