Suniti Thapa is OneSeed’s amazing summer intern. This is her first guest blog.
Suniti is an Economics concentrator at Harvard University. She has spent her summers working in a micro-finance organization in Northern India and researching the impact of Maoist Civil War on social and economic well-being of Nepali women. Her experiences have strengthened her passion for economic empowerment through enterprise development. Suniti is also working as the Director of Outreach and Partnership (Nepal) with Udhyami Nepali, a non-profit that helps Nepali social entrepreneurs get off the ground. She is a Nepali citizen.
Although Nepali women comprise fifty-two percent of the country’s population, their representation in politics is among the lowest in Asia. Nepal also shares the unfortunate tag of one of three countries in the world where the life expectancy of women is lower than that of men. In a patriarchal social system, Nepalese women still suffer from physical violence, forced marriages, sexual trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Lack of Access to Credit
Among all these problems, the lack of female economic empowerment might be the most critical. Today, lack of property entitlements from inheritances for women means they do not have collateral to receive money from institutional lenders. This has led to severe credit constraints on women who want to start their own businesses. Hence, the role of financial innovations like MFIs has played a key role in supporting the female entrepreneurs in the lower section of the pyramid.
Importance of Economic Empowerment
The need for female entrepreneurship is not just economic. Economic empowerment brings freedom in decision-making and higher participation in the community. It also brings an end to domestic violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced marriages and the dowry system.
Maoist War and Impact on Women
During my summer research project last summer, I researched the impact of the Maoist war on war-displaced women in Kathmandu. I went in believing the need for emotional and psychological support would be the critical need. My preconceptions were wrong, however, as the results showed that even women who had lost husbands and families believed their economic helplessness as the most important problem. Most of the female war victims were struggling to make ends meet. They were working as construction laborers, in restaurants, as maids and some as prostitutes. Some of the fortunate ones were sheltered by the NGOs, MFIs and had started their own home-based craft enterprises. The unfortunate ones identified the lack of economic choices as the reason they were involved in jobs that they themselves found shameful.
How to Proceed?
From a country that once burnt its widows on the funeral pyre, Nepal has made a momentous transition on the path of gender rights. Quotas for female policymakers are not uncommon these days. The government has established the Women’s Development Ministry to monitor women’s issues. Formal changes to laws are welcome but not enough. The economic helplessness many women feel, especially after being subjected to the horror of war, can only be countered by creating a system of economic empowerment. The first step should be the abolition of all laws that differ between genders on access to titling and credit. The second should be the expansion of institutions that allow for economic empowerment, such as MFIs. Nepal can only move forward as a prosperous nation by letting Nepali women dictate their economic future.
Photo Courtesy of Nayan Pokhrel (c) All Rights Reserved