Daayitwa Fellowship: A Journey of Self-Acceptance
ANUGYA KUNWAR, Daayitwa Fellow 2021
Hopscotching between the dual identities of an Indian mother and a Nepali father, 7-year-old me never truly felt that I belonged in either of the countries. The Indian-accent laced Nepali that tumbled through my mouth often led my Nepali friends to call me dhoti. As a defense mechanism, I found my solace in English and accepted the identity of always being the ‘other’ in Nepal. The years from seven to seventeen were spent here trying to perform ‘Nepali-ness’ without fully feeling that I was accepted. The undergrad journey rolled in and soon I found myself in the foreign lands of Bangladesh, where being a Nepali was the only identity that made me feel at home. Retrospectively, it is interesting to notice how I accepted my Nepaliness more while I was abroad than while I was in Nepal.
My curiosity to learn more about Nepal grew during this period and with every research paper that I wrote, I found myself visiting the nooks and crannies of my country through journals and articles. Learning about the Chhaupadi pratha, the mental health situation after the 2015 earthquake and the Nepali nationalism narrative made me feel like I was ‘proving’ myself of being a Nepali, gaining the academic credibility that ensured that I earned my identity. I subconsciously thought that knowledge about Nepal would be the stepping stone that finally gave me the sense of belonging, which I always sought when I was a child. However, with the work that I did, I gradually understood that there were gaps between what I learned through research papers and what the reality looked like. My goal now was to experience and learn about this reality, which brought me back to Nepal.
The initial months back home resurfaced the childhood insecurities of being the ‘other’. While my adult mind was trying to come to terms with it, I stumbled across the Daayitwa Public Policy Fellowship Program. Their aim to create a youth-government collaboration to promote evidence-based economic policy decisions went parallel to my aim of getting a closer look at the existent realities in Nepal. Having to work with the government, conducting research on local issues and providing evidence-based policy recommendations would allow me to get a holistic experience that I looked for in my professional career. It gave me the sense of being a part of the nation-building process, no matter how small my contribution would be. My particular interest was to be the Daayitwa research fellow at the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens (MoWCSC) so that I could string together my passion for advocating gender issues with my expertise on it to work towards the economic empowerment of women in Nepal.
As much as I expected to learn a lot from the fellowship, I did not quite expect that it would help me tackle my identity crisis. The leadership sessions that we received turned into a self-reflective period that made me ponder what my ‘story of self’ was - why did Anugya decide to embark on this Fellowship journey? As I dug deeper into it, I realized that my curiosity to learn about Nepal, to work here stemmed from the constant struggle I had since I was a kid to embody my Nepali identity. It felt like my work and knowledge would give me the acceptance and credibility towards my Nepali identity that I craved. The first introductory call with Sachib jyu of the MoWCSC sent me spiraling back into my insecurity as I struggled to communicate fluently in Nepali and, as a young professional, felt like I did not have much to add. The struggle was more because it was in my head than the actual reality of not being able to communicate my expertise. After a few days of moping around, I decided to reevaluate my purpose of joining the fellowship. The challenge was to find my individual voice among the external noise that told me that I did not belong here. The way that the leadership sessions helped me center my voice made me realize that the acceptance that I desired would never be earned if I myself did not accept my Nepali identity. The advice of my mother still echoes in my head. She constantly reminded me how it was me who was holding myself back rather than the external environment. She told me how if she as an individual brought up in India can reclaim her space here in Nepal, I could easily do the same as I was born and raised here. With this shifted mindset, I constantly reminded myself that I already belonged to my country, I belonged in the space that I was in and that I did not require anything additional to prove it either to myself, or others. I reassured myself that the insight that I brought into the work that I did had equal importance as anybody else’s and was needed.
I channeled these reminders into my work with MoWCSC, where we are currently working on the research agenda of Improving Access to Innovation and Finances to Women Entrepreneurs. The agency that comes with economic independence for women indeed is one step further to tackle the deeply rooted gender inequality in our society. In the context of Nepal, we often find gender-blind policies and regulations, which fail to address the nuances of gendered oppressions and barriers that Nepali women entrepreneurs face. Additionally, most of these gender-responsive policy arrangements disproportionately benefit a small group of urban-middle-class women. With the research, we ask the ‘woman question’ while moving forth with policy-making decisions. We approach the barriers faced by women entrepreneurs through an intersectional lens, where we challenge the homogenization of the category of ‘Nepali women’. The acknowledgment of the disparity in the accessibility of resources among women entrepreneurs due to our social positions allows us to ensure that our policies are catered towards the marginalized. The aim of the research is to ensure that the government facilities provided to women entrepreneurs are made accessible to Nepali women who are in the lowest sphere of the hierarchical social pyramid.
The lessons that I have learned from my journey of acceptance and being accepted through my fellowship are indeed values that I will carry with me throughout my life. As young adults, we might often feel that we do not ‘belong’ in the government sphere of our nation. We might feel like ‘outsiders’, who do not have much to add to the process. However, with what I have learned so far, it is important to center our inner voices and recognize our purpose to pursue our goal. The journey of acceptance, the feeling of I belong here should come from within. Once we have identified our inner voices, no matter how many external voices make us question our potential, we have the determination and strength to stick to our grounds. So, here is to all of us and our journeys of self-acceptance!