EMPOWER DALIT WOMEN OF NEPAL

EMPOWER DALIT WOMEN OF NEPAL is a small grassroots organization, dedicated to enable Dalit (low-caste) women and all disenfranchised people in Nepal to fight for their human rights. Through education, literacy training and empowerment groups, EMPOWER DALIT WOMEN aims to foster a measure of economic independence, to boost self-esteem, and to instill solidarity and a sense of national pride.

BACKGROUND

Much of Nepalís population has for centuries suffered under the caste system, an integral part of the Hindu religion, which determines an individualís occupation, status, access to land etc. Nepal is home to 5 million Dalits, a term used to describe the lower rungs of the caste ladder. Although illegal, caste discrimination is deeply ingrained in Nepali society and widely practiced, especially in rural areas.

Dalits and women in particular, are mostly illiterate and have no advocates within the Nepali high-caste establishment.  They suffer discrimination in innumerable ways, notably in terms of access to education, health care and jobs.  They are shunned by the rest of society, abused and humiliated in untold ways.  They are barred from entering the temples and forbidden to use common water sources. Lower-caste people and lower-caste women in particular, suffer greatly from lack of self-esteem and have no tradition of solidarity. Dalits often do not even consider themselves citizens (of Nepal).

Women and girls from all of Nepali society are often subject to physical and emotional abuse even in their own families and communities, due to ingrained religious and cultural bias against women. An estimated 50.000 Nepali women and children, a large percentage of them Dalits, have been trafficked to Indian brothels.

Women are economically completely dependent on the men in the family, and can not inherit property.   Boys get the more nutritious and plentiful meals, are more likely to be sent to school and to receive medical treatment. The literacy rate for women is half that for men.

BEGINNINGS

EMPOWER DALIT WOMEN OF NEPAL was founded in 1996 by Bishnu Maya Pariyar (then 20 years old). Born to a family of low-caste subsistence farmers in a remote village in Western Nepal, she had to overcome remarkable obstacles to become a social worker. Ms. Pariyar is currently in the United States to expand her education and to find sponsors for her organization. EMPOWER DALIT WOMEN focuses specifically on low-caste women in inaccessible communities, largely overlooked by the established development community and off the beaten path of trekkers.

A group of Nepali and American volunteers in Boston have recently formed an American arm of EMPOWER DALIT WOMEN.

 

PROGRAMS

The Savings and Loan Groups

As a member of a savings and loan group, each woman must contribute 10 or 20 rupees (15-30 cents) at the mandatory monthly meetings. From the growing pool, the members can borrow money for small enterprises, such as buying and raising a goat, buying inventory to start a small store etc.  At the meetings, the members repay their loans with interest. The group may also lend money to the community at large. Once a group is established, it is self-sustaining, and only accountable to the members.

  • Literacy as Key to Empowerment
    After motivation and trust building in the community, literacy training is the first step towards creating a savings and loan group.  A volunteer teacher, generally someone from the community, must commit to   teaching every night for two hours.  After three months, most of the women are able to read a simple text, to write and to do simple math necessary for accounting.

  • Empowerment and Social Benefits
    Besides the obvious economic gains, belonging to a group gives a woman status and a measure of independence. The groups foster a can-do attitude in their communities, and have initiated community improvement projects, such as clean-ups. In many cases, the groups have successfully fought against domestic violence, which is often entwined with alcoholism and gambling.  In cases of medical emergencies, the groups have enabled individuals to be brought for treatment. In a variety of situations, the groups give emotional support to the individual. The groups vigorously encourage schooling of all children.

  • Breaking down the Caste Hierarchy
    In some groups, women of higher caste have been admitted as an experiment. It has resulted in new relationships across caste lines and improved understanding on both sides of the divide. Within such groups, women from different castes can now drink from the same water source, a revolutionary development.

  • Low Cost and Sustainability
    EMPOWER DALIT WOMEN provides new groups with seed money to get the fund started, and cover cost of literacy material and a lantern. Women from established groups are helping to create new groups in other communities as well as in their own.  Men, initially hostile to the idea, have replicated the idea and started their own savings and loan groups.

Scholarship Program

A scholarship program for low-caste children is currently supporting over 200 elementary school children, 20 high school students and 10 young women in college, who are pursuing careers as teachers and health care workers.  They plan to use their education to serve the Dalit community. EMPOWER DALIT WOMEN is actively seeking sponsors to expand this scholarship program.

 

School Improvement Project

As a pilot project in community partnership, EMPOWER DALIT WOMEN is starting a fund to enlarge and upgrade the overcrowded and dilapidated school in Taklung, Gorkha. EMPOWER DALIT WOMEN will cover the cost of materials, the community will provide the labor.

THE FUTURE

The plans include: expanding the number of womenís groups to new communities, further development of the existing groups through training and development, especially in the field of public health and child development, as well as improved teacher training.