At 06:30 in the morning, I was picked up to travel to Sindhupalchok, one of the districts in Nepal where Zonta, through UN Women, supports returning migrant women. The trip was around 100 km (approximately 60 miles), but due to the bad conditions of the roads, the trip took around 3 1/2 hours. It was raining heavily, and I was told this was very unusual; normally you should see the magnificent mountains from the road.
The earthquake from 2015 is still very apparent everywhere you go in Nepal. Not only are the roads in bad shape, many buildings are yet not repaired. But primarily you hear it through people’s stories. Everyone knows exactly where they were on 25 April 2015 and how it impacted them.
At the education center, I met women who participated in IT, knitting and tailoring classes. Part of the training also consists of entrepreneurship skills and how to set up a business of your own. Psychosocial counseling is an important part as many have experiences that need to be dealt with.
All the women wanted to tell me their personal story. They had been working abroad in many different countries but were now home again and wanted to stay with their families and be able to support themselves in their villages. I heard stories of women working many, many hours per day, often with salaries far below what they had been promised. Very young girls leaving their homes to be nannies or domestic workers. One challenge in the project is that women who have been sexually trafficked do not want to tell anyone, not to risk the future –but after having got support for a long time, I now heard some admit what they had experienced.
Why do the women then decide to leave their family and home? The mapping report, that was the start of our project, shows that one of the underlying factors for migration in Nepal is violence against women (including domestic violence) and not only limited opportunities for women to earn their living. To get away from violence and a dream of a better life are strong motivators. Families hear about others who have come home with money and sell their land to be able to send their children abroad as well.
Besides supporting returning migrant women with vocational training, our project also focuses on advocacy to end violence against women and gender discrimination. One important action is to inform women of their rights and responsibilities in the society and train them to claim their rights. A booklet has been produced (with printing support from our Zonta club in Kathmandu) and RTI (Right to Information) champions have been trained to spread the message.
I also met students who participated in a gender equality class. The theme was Sahi Ho – That’s right. Everyone was challenged to participate in an essay writing competition. I met a 15-year-old boy and his story featured violence against women. All essays were going to be published in a book.
The Future We Want, the name of our project, reflects that women in Nepal want to shape their own lives. The goal of the project is not only to support and address individual women who have been subject to either unsafe migration or trafficking. The goal is also to be part of a process of changing the structures in the society and removing the reasons for women leaving the country under unsafe conditions. Besides meeting the direct beneficiaries in Sindhupalchok, I met politicians both on the local and federal level and participated in a roundtable discussion with policymakers from different ministries. The government of Nepal has made a commitment to combat human trafficking with a comprehensive approach of changing policies.
We can be proud that our donations are supporting not only women in need, but also creating a sustainable development for women in Nepal, using synergies among all stakeholders.