SAHABHAGITA: Gender and Peacebuilding Project in Nepal

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1 SAHABHAGITA: Gender and Peacebuilding Project in Nepal CARE Canada is working in Nepal, one of the world s most impoverished nations, to help some of the poorest and most vulnerable women in the region stand up for their rights and have a voice in community decisions. Peacebuilding community groups are created as a forum for women to gain awareness of their rights and to develop the confidence to speak out against practices that are harmful to women. This project also focuses on helping women enter decision-making roles, where they can effect positive change for women, particularly in the peacebuilding process. Thanks to the strong relationship between CARE Canada and the Canadian Government, every dollar donated to the SAHABHAGITA* project will be matched three to one by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). * SAHABHAGITA is a Nepali word that means involvement for equal share. Nepal Facts Nepal is not usually associated with images of persistent poverty, civil war and caste and sex-based discrimination, yet these realities are very pertinent daily experiences for members of Nepalese society specifically women. Poverty in Nepal is not simply based around a lack of access to clean water, education, economic empowerment resources and health programs poverty is further exacerbated by social exclusion and discrimination due to caste, ethnicity and sex. For Nepalese women, discrimination is pronounced in all areas and sectors of their lives: Women have very low levels of access, participation, control and ownership over opportunities, resources and decision making processes Female literacy rates are at 35%, well below the average literacy rate for males (63%) Only 11% of households report female land owners, while over 80% of rural women work in agriculture Only 19% of women work in the professional sector, only 10% of women are in the civil service and less than 1% are in decision making positions 1

2 Background Ten years of civil war and generations of traditional cultural practices have denied women access to economic resources and social justice. A Constituent assembly election was held on April 10, 2008 an historic moment for Nepal and as result a new constitution is now being developed. This is an ideal opportunity for Nepalese women to find a voice and breakdown the barriers they have previously come up against. However, inclusion of poor, vulnerable and socially excluded women in the social and political change process is a very problematic issue in Nepal. Women, specifically those in the Mid-West and Far-West regions of Nepal have been isolated during the civil war, and this isolation has severely limited the ability of these women to engage in the change process and to include their legitimate issues in this decision-making process. This is a crucial time to seek inputs from all sectors so that the new constitution guarantees the rights and equal opportunity for marginalized sections of the population, helping ensure sustainable peace. As the government of Nepal creates a new constitution, CARE is ensuring that women s voices from some of the most war-afflicted, remote areas of the country are included in this process, so these women can have equal rights both on paper and in their community. How SAHABHAGITA Evolved The SAHABHAGITA project emerged from six years of experience and lessons learnt from the CARE Nepal Participation of Women Enabling their Real Representation (POWER) project, which aimed to enhance activism among female political representatives at the most grassroots level in order to increase their role in local politics. Tangibly, POWER helped increase the women s agency in the Far Western region of Nepal where the project was implemented. Women in the project districts have become vocal, attained positions of power and are treated by society, even if just to a limited extent, as social leaders. Changes in their image and roles as stereotyped dependent wives to that of social activists have brought changes in the self-perception of participating women as well as in the perception of others in the community, and have raised the level of the participating women s self-esteem. Women can now speak out at public gatherings, put forward women-specific agendas in different forums, and even publicly protest against cultural practices such as domestic violence. However, POWER s final report highlights that not all women, specifically poor, vulnerable, and socially excluded women, are equally capable of giving voice to or exhibiting an agency role to the above mentioned extent. Lower level of exposure in terms of knowledge and information, less and inactive participation, lack of awareness on self rights, lower level of confidence and skills in understanding their own rights have been identified as common gaps in the efforts to increase women s equal and active participation throughout the country. The situation of poor women in this project area is more severe, and in order to help address such problems, a women-focused approach was taken in the various projects of CARE, which worked with local women s groups. As a result of this approach a critical mass of women and intermediary community-based organizations in the form of Women Advocacy Forum, Women Rights Forum and networks of like-minded groups at local, district and regional level has been created. CARE and these networks and forums have decided to respond to the current need to engage poor, vulnerable and socially excluded women in the social and political transformation process particularly in the constituent assembly and peacebuilding process, so that representation and inclusion of the rights and issues of these women are ensured at all levels. 2

3 Project Goals The SAHABHAGITA project s goal is to contribute to the peacebuilding and transformation process leading to protection, promotion and respect for poor vulnerable and socially excluded women s rights by the state, society and rights holders themselves, in 10 districts of Nepal. CARE aims to achieve this by: Reflecting poor, vulnerable and socially excluded women s rights issues in the new constitution Improving the socio-political environment and social harmony to protect promote and respect the rights and roles of poor, vulnerable and socially excluded women Creating women s rights networks and peace committees to engage in peace building processes at local and national level Current Activities The people who are predominately being supported by the SAHABHAGITA project are poor, vulnerable and socially excluded Nepalese women. The project is reaching out to 7,100 women, with a focus on Janajatis, Dalits, and freed Kamaiyas* in the 10 districts of Nepal. Similarly, conflict victims/displaced, poor single women (widows), Haliya*, people living with HIV/AIDs, victims of gender-based violence and religious minorities are being given priority within these categories of people. These groups of people are systematically excluded from social, economical and political empowerment due to power relations, caste discrimination in access to basic services/facilities and information. In order to address these complex issues, the project is reaching out to approximately 380 social/political leaders, 300 women alliance/networks, media and other influencing actors including the key family members and spouses. These groups of people will also act as intermediaries for the project primarily to promote social inclusion, advocate for justice, equality and human dignity of these segment of people within Nepal s rural context. * Janajatis are indigenous Nepalese people, Dalits are the lowest cast group in Nepal and Kamaiyas and Haliya are agricultural bonded labourers, mainly women and girls in Nepal who have been sold by their families to landowners to work as indentured servants on their land. Although this system has now been officially abolished by the Nepalese government, unofficially the system still exists in many parts of Nepal. Hasrun Idrisi, Participant of the SAHABHAGITA Project Hasrun Idrisi, a 24 year-old mother of two, is a survivor of gender-based violence in Nepal burned alive because of a dowry dispute. Unfortunately, this type of gender-based violence is prevalent in Nepal. However, thanks to the SAHABHAGITA project Hasrun has gained the power to rebuild her life, start a small business, and seek justice. Without the help and support of CARE, Hasrun and her children would have had no where to turn and no help working towards a brighter future. 3

4 How You Can Help With your help, we can continue to build the rights and freedom of women in Nepal by contributing to the peacebuilding and transformation process of Nepal and fostering leadership and a sense of community amongst women who would otherwise have no rights and feel very much alone. Invest a dollar with CARE Canada and we ll turn it into four! Your contribution will leverage a three to one match from CIDA, allowing CARE to effect even greater change for the women and communities who will benefit from the SAHABHAGITA project. CARE Canada Facts CARE is Canada s global force dedicated to defending dignity and fighting poverty by empowering the world's most vulnerable and greatest resource for change: women and girls. CARE Canada s mission is to serve individuals and families in the poorest communities for the world. Guided by the aspirations of local communities, CARE pursues this mission with both excellence and compassion because the people deserve nothing less. Founded in 1946 to distribute CARE packages of relief to a war-torn Europe, CARE is now reaching out to over 50 million people in almost 70 countries around the world every year. Contact For more information please contact: Sarah Wilson t CARE Canada e Gurdwara Road care.ca Ottawa, ON K2E 7X6 Notes Attached are stories of some of the women who have been supported by the SAHABHAGITA project. These stories have been taken from the CARE publication: The power lies within: women effecting change, CARE Nepal, She has the power to change her world. You have the power to help her do it. Together we are more powerful! 4

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