The Raising Her Voice Nepal Programme | Oxfam | Domestic Violence

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While gender inequality remains extreme in Nepal, Oxfam
  OXFAM ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP CASE STUDY   THE RAISING HER VOICE NEPAL PROGRAMME By Duncan Green ‘I was just a baby making machine’; ‘Before the project, I only ever spoke to animals and children’; ‘This is the first time I have been called by my own name’ Quotes from interviews of women participants, March 2011 While gender inequality remains extreme in Nepal, Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice (RHV) programme on women’s empowerment is contributing to and reinforcing an ongoing long-term shift in gender norms, driven by a combination of urbanization, migration, rising literacy and access to media, all of which have combined to erode women’s traditional isolation. That shift has produced some important windows of opportunity, including ‘implementation gaps’ on which RHV seeks to build. To do this, RHV has set up some 80 Community Discussion Classes (CDCs), bringing women together for up to two hours a day to share experiences, enhance their knowledge of local decision making, and build their communication, advocacy and leadership skills. Crucially, facilitators of the groups come from the communities themselves and are chosen by RHV’s programme partners. Women formulate action plans to deal with issues identified in the CDCs, and are supported to join management committees for local forest, school, health and sanitation resources. CDCs have become the building blocks of a remarkable exercise in grassroots empowerment of women in a society historically characterized by extreme levels of gender discrimination. Women have seen tangible progress in their homes, communities, and broader social and political role on issues such as violence against women (VAW), political representation and the right to be heard.  2   BACKGROUND 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 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. However, this failed to produce a new constitution even after four years of talks, due to a lack of consensus among three major political parties on vital issues concerning federalism, the judiciary and forms of governance. In November 2013, the country elected a second Constituent Assembly to try and break the deadlock, but agreeing a new constitution still remains a huge challenge as there is as yet no sign of the political parties reaching consensus. With the governments and political parties bogged down in talks on the constitutional transition, not much attention has been paid to improving the lives of poor Nepalis. Weak governance, lack of jobs, particularly in rural areas, unequal access to education, to opportunities for skills development, and to productive assets are all hindering efforts to lift people, especially women and girls, out of poverty. The reach of government to remote areas is minimal and 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 political elites and government appointees in the absence of elected representatives at local level. Gender rights ‘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 percent, women’s is only 54.5 percent, and in some lower-caste groups fewer than a quarter of women can read and write. Only six percent of women own their own house and 11 percent their own land. As Priti Bhakta Giri, Village Development Committee secretary in Chhinchu, Surkhet says, ‘Men take better care of their animals than their wives. They can get another wife, but they can’t get another buffalo.’ 2   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 three percent of parliamentary seats. But the Constituent Assembly elected in 2008 saw a remarkable increase in women’s representation to 33 percent, followed by 30 percent of the 575 members in the present (second) Constituent Assembly elected in 2013. As the Nepal Human Development Report notes: ‘Broadening representation and participation has the potential to change power  3   relations’. 1  It was this change that Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice (RHV) programme wanted to support .   THEORY OF CHANGE RHV 3  has identified three spheres of action and impact in its theory of change (see Figure 1) starting with personal capacity and confidence; building public awareness and the social capital of women through groups, associations and alliances; and linking to political participation and advocacy. Initiatives are focused primarily on local level but integrated into action at district and national levels. The project was implemented in three rural districts in Nepal: Dailekh, Surkhet, and Bardiya, covering different topography (high, mid and low lands) and demography, but all with high degrees of marginalization of women. RHV aimed to make closing ‘implementation gaps’ a central part of its approach. The project was able to take advantage of a positive policy environment, for example the government’s quota for 50 percent women’s participation in Community Forest User Groups. Other local committees are required to have at least 33 percent representation. At the outset of the project, many of these quotas were unfilled, allowing RHV to make addressing these gaps a priority. Implementation gaps are useful in that they are a sign that officialdom has already accepted the principle, and so has no admissible reason to block the demands of activism. From the outset, RHV decided not to work with existing livelihoods partners (because none of these were women’s organizations or with existing gender expertise), but to look for new community-based organizations with a commitment to promoting women’s rights. Working with and through three local women’s organizations (one each in three districts of mid-west Nepal) and three national NGOs (focusing respectively on advocacy, skills creation and communications (radio), it aimed to:   raise women’s awareness of their rights and the importance of participation in decision making structures by disseminating information and enhancing their knowledge;   motivate women to meaningfully participate in decision making structures that influence their lives;   influence policy and change attitudes of service providers by enhancing women’s meaningful participation in decision making structures and tackling violence against women (VAW); and   build public support for the increased participation of poor and marginalized women in community decision making structures, and against domestic VAW through policy dialogue, lobbying and advocacy.  4   Figure 1: Raising Her Voice Theory of Change  After months sleeping ‘under the sky’ following a dispute with her landlord, Neetan Kohli (far left), WLG member in Hatri, Hydrabad, has returned to her home and to work in the fields, with the support of the WLGs. Photo ©Irina Werning (2012). Source: J. Repila (2013) 4   Change strategy The change strategy in Nepal echoes RHV’s global framework (see Figure 1). Personal sphere:  Although men have many informal and formal forums in which to discuss their issues, such as local tea shops or community meetings, women have previously been more isolated. The main project activity in this sphere is the Community Discussion Classes (CDCs), reaching about 2,000 women through 80 classes. CDC activities include literacy classes, discussions on community issues selected by the participants, and agreement on action plans to tackle shared problems. Often the facilitator introduces new information to the group using printed material, but also role plays and debates.
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