Breaking Shackles, Building Aspirations
Have you ever experienced a feeling where hearing a piece of single news completely drains you out of energy and makes you think ‘WHY’? I felt that way when I read about this 16-year-old girl who was found hanging on a tree one day after her wedding, just because she had fallen in love with and had married an (also underaged) boy from an ‘upper’ caste. I know this incident isn’t unique and is not even the worst among tragic stories that we find every day in our newspapers, but there was something about this particular news that got me thinking.
There exist several threads in our society that allow incidents like these to happen (mostly) to women. Child marriage, caste profiling, gender discrimination, gender violence, murder, etc. are only a few text-book labels that we could give to these heinous crimes. As a liberal thinker, my brain couldn’t stop just there and I started to dive into thinking what possible causes could be behind so many women in Nepal facing such atrocities.
I began thinking about the general upbringing of children in rural Nepal. Most children - boys and girls - are kept away from aspirations in life and are expected to ‘help out’ in their parent’s occupation: be it farming, house-keeping, or caste-based family professions like shoemaking, copper/bamboo products making, etc. Even the unbearably-poor education system stands only as a formality and fails to indoctrinate real-life skills. As such, innovation and entrepreneurship is a far-fetched idea for rural Nepal. Even more so, if kids have been strangled by family responsibilities and haven’t been exposed to a more productive environment beyond public schooling.
Girls, no doubt, are disproportionate victims of this reality as they are kept away from not only their aspirations but also their fundamental freedom, career choices, economic and political rights. Their sole responsibility from a very young age is strictly limited to domestic chores of the family like cooking, cleaning, doing dishes, and laundry which in kind words is ‘a nurturing role’ but in reality resembles slavery. Practically then, newly married young girls are financially dependent on young boys. These boys, in turn, are dependent on their fathers, which only makes the matter worse because the patriarchal slavery these teenage brides are shackled with is only further reinforced with financial dependence. Sadly for the girl in the news (and also many other women in Nepal), the ropes that shackled her were real and she lost her life to it.
If women and men of our societies received a good education and had entrepreneurial or employment opportunities, they would probably be enabled to redirect their focus a bit more on developing their aspirations. The financial gain this would bring - together with education led awareness - would also be a key to social empowerment as next-generation parents would gradually liberalize their views on gender roles, discrimination, and oppression. Individuals - both women and men - would be enabled to make their own choices and thus develop the strength to either oppose conservative beliefs or at the very least live an independent life away from oppression. I do understand that these changes aren’t at all simple, but these adaptive challenges are of utmost importance nonetheless.
Currently, as a Daayitwa fellow, I am trying to research on ‘Improving Effectiveness of Skilling for Women Entrepreneurs’ affiliated with the National Planning Commission (NPC) of Nepal specializing in CTEVT training programs. Previous research papers published in the CTEVT journal confirms that both technical and vocational education run by CTEVT – in efforts to promote employment and/or entrepreneurship and thereby financial independence – are heavily dominated by men. Dr. Ram Hari Lamichhane, former Member Secretary of CTEVT, claims in his paper that lower education levels, involvement in household work, male dominance, lack of access to information, and financing are five major causes hindering the access of women in these training programs.
It is rather heart-breaking to study that factors like information, domestication, dominance, etc. are still among the top reasons why women are far behind in gaining financial independence. Women don’t know what ‘power’ feels like simply because both ‘power’ and ‘women’ have been controlled by men for centuries. The very CTEVT that is supposed to promote financial independence in Nepal is heavily dominated by (mostly upper-caste) men (26 out of 27 leadership positions of this office are filled with men). In these circumstances, I have tasked myself with studying ways in which CTEVT can improve its training platform for women. More specifically, I want to study the status quo and figure out possible strategies for improving the effectiveness of skilling in women entrepreneurs. I hope that my research can aid in extracting some fundamental necessities and enable at least some women entrepreneurs into breaking their chains and initiating their journey of financial and social independence.