Celebrating Womanhood 2014 Awardees

Nanda Devi Kunwar - Annapurna

On April 21, 2012, Nanda Devi was trying to prevent forest encroachment in Madhumalati Community Forest when she was brutally attacked by a gang involved in the encroachment. They cut her hands and left her to die. Despite the serious injury and risk to life, she selflessly continues to work for community forest conservation.

Instead of dissuading her the incident further boosted her courage and determination to work for forest conservation. Nanda Devi wakes up early in the morning to patrol the forest and talk to people about forest conservation and sustainable forest management. She also ensures that the community forest users are granted their rights.

“The pain in my hands has reduced but I cannot work as I used to before. I am still dependent on others for everyday tasks like bathing and changing  clothes,” says Nanda. “I am happy to be recognized at the national level but the gravity of conservation issues at local level that I am fighting for daily is yet to be understood by my own community. We still have a long way to go but I am positive that people will understand the importance of conservation soon.”

Radio Udaypur - Bhagawati

A Radio station owned, operated and managed by a group of women who visualize a society empowered through information. They believe that access to correct and updated information for women is the key to a just and inclusive society. In a country where there are over 400 radio stations dominated by men, Radio Udaypur’s unique factor is that all producers and broadcasters are under the age of 30 guided by a more experienced group of women.

Radio Udaypur is acknowledged as an exemplary Community Radio Station both nationally and internationally. Women stories and issues are the heart of the programs. What is different is that these programs include what women have to say about the issues including the political scenario. Their programs ensure that women are aware about their rights and give them the confidence to demand and access social, judicial, political and economic opportunities.

Ritu Gyamdan - Bhawani

Sports and more specifically Adventure Sports are considered male domain. However, Ritu Gyamdan has broken this myth and dared to
tread dangerous waters.

Ritu grew up in Rasuwa where she spent her leisure hours swimming in the river Betrapati. She felt exhilarated splashing and diving in the waters. This led to a close bonding with water and ultimately to her profession as Rafting Guide. She also kayaks and teaches rafting and kayaking.

Ritu and three other friends have now established a company known as Himalayan Adventure Girls that organizes trips for tourists. They are the only five women out of a total of 1000 rafting guides.

Makwanpur Mahila Samuha - Durga

HIV & AIDS are still spoken of in hushed tones even today. It was more difficult 11 years ago especially if one was afflicted. A few women affected by HIV got together and decided to fight for their rights to live in a dignified manner. This led to the establishment of Makwanpur Women’s Group.

Today over 70 women have been able to sensitize the community about the challenges faced by victims of HIV & AIDS. Their combined efforts also enable them to educate about 60 children who are innocent victims.

Makwanpur Women’s Group has extended its sphere of work to include violence against women and women trafficking. The office has now become an  oasis for women victimized by society.

Meena Kharel - Karuna

The year 2047 ushered in multi party democracy but did not really address the issues of women and their participation. To counter this discrimination,  Meena Kharel along with a few friends established Women Development Centre in Chitwan with the objective of encouraging women to come together to  advocate their rights. She started with a group of economically and disadvantaged women and organized programs to empower them. Today, women who  only had the capacity to save Rs. 25/- are now able to save up to Rs. 500/-. This has ensured that women who were forced to leave their homes are able  to live with dignity and educate their children.

Her selfless dedication has helped to ensure justice for women. She strongly believes that the nation will develop if issues related to violence against  women, education and economic empowerment policies and strategies are integrated into the national development agenda.

Kalpana Karki - Laxmi

Born into an impoverished family in Sindhu Palchowk, it was presumed that Kalpana would contribute to the family’s earnings by weaving carpets. Her mother’s determination to educate her daughter changed the course of Kalpana’s life enabling and encouraging her to dream her of a better life.

Kalpana aspired to become a nurse to help and heal people. But she knew only too well the challenges that came along with belonging to an economically  backward community. This drove her on to work at establishing women’s rights over land and property. Her biggest achievement has been to lead the  march to propagate land ownership that helped over 2000 landless women acquire joint ownership of land for economic development.

Violence against  women is another serious issue in her community that Kalpana now advocates in her capacity as Secretary of Mahila Sirjansheel Parivaar which now is spread to almost all districts of Nepal.

Laxmi Bhushal - Mahamaya

Her voice as “Budi Amai” is well known to listeners of the agricultural programs broadcast by Radio Nepal. Very often one can hear the term Harisharanam that one associated with her radio character. Laxmi Bhushal established herself as an agro expert through playing a farmer lady. The scenario more than  50 years back was very different than now. It was unthinkable for daughters of respectable families to have anything to do with music, songs or theatre.

Laxmi’s family could not accept her decision to join theatre. They believed that she was in reality the diverse roles she played. They felt she brought shame  pon the family and threw her out of the house. Left to fend for herself Laxmi was all the more motivated to follow her dreams of becoming an actor  par excellence. Today aged 64 she continues to inspire Nepali audiences with her rendition of Harisharan .

Keshari Thapa - Saraswati

Normal people view the world through their eyes but the exceptional feel the world. Nepal has no plans and facilities for the differently abled. The  differently abled have to compete at every level to gain employment. It is more challenging for the visually impaired as lack of books in Braille limit access to  educational opportunities.

Born in Malaysia and educated in Hong Kong, Keshari Thapa could have lived a comfortable life in any one of the two countries. She chose to dedicate her  life to being teacher, counselor, friend and guardian to the children of Gyan chakchu school for the visually impaired at Dharan, Purwanchal. In the recent  SLC exams 9 of the 10 students got First Division marks. Previous students are self-employed or work as teachers and government officers.

In her 21 years of association with Gyan Chakchu school, Keshari has tirelessly worked at improving and improvising teaching material, techniques and  facilities for the visually impaired students. She firmly believes that the visually impaired have equal rights to access to education and employment  opportunities.

Parbati Dagora - Shakti

She never had the opportunity to be a child. She spent her childhood hours washing dishes, clothes and cleaning the cowshed from dawn to dusk. Her father exchanged her for a pair of bullocks that he incidentally never got!

Despite the odds Parbati demonstrated her indomitable spirit by deciding at the tender age of 11 that she would no longer slave for anyone. She was married off to a drunkard who abused her physically. Not wanting to traumatize her two young sons, she left the house determined to educate and give  them a good life.

Life gave her a second chance when she met her present husband who supported her unconditionally. It was not easy for him also as his family did not  want him to marry a woman with two young sons and the inability to bear him any children.

His support has enabled Parbati to pursue her dreams. She is currently the Chairperson of Aama Samuha, the very group that stripped her and beat her  because she dared to marry a second time. She is a vocal advocate for the landless people and teaches them income generating skills, motivates them to educate their children and fight against domestic violence.