iDE Global

To earn a living Nepali women leave gender norms and housebound stereotypes behind

iDE is engaged in a broad effort across rural Nepal to support women becoming small scale entrepreneurs

I De Photo Hero Np Childcare Center 21X9

Mothers and their children at the Baraha Child Care Center

Two-year-old Hanvi Rana giggles as she pushes herself forward on a plastic motorcycle, weaving between the other toys scattered across the playroom. As one of 15 small children dropped off at this Nepali childcare center, the cheerful toddler is developing important cognition and social skills as she busies herself with playthings and educational games. Just as important, her mother now has time for other responsibilities. For three hours each weekday, Bimala Saru can turn her attention to household chores and tending her vegetable garden, while Hanvi attends childcare. “Since the establishment of the childcare center, things have become much easier for us,” says Bimala. “Our children learn new things and make friends while us mothers are free for hours and can do our work.”

As part of a broad effort across rural Nepal to support women becoming small scale entrepreneurs, iDE is providing assistance to a cooperative that runs the Baraha Child Care Center. Located near Surkhet, in the country’s southwest, the center helps create an enabling environment for women who want to pursue livelihood opportunities. To assist the childcare center, for example, iDE accessed a Paul Polak Innovation Fund grant to support the cooperative, installing a toilet and providing toys at the center. Soma Kumari Rana, iDE Nepal gender equality and social inclusion officer, said rural women in Nepal were often left behind to raise children and work household farms when their husbands migrated to neighboring India for work. “Because women are forced to engage in household activities, their economic and social status has been compromised,” says Rana. “Women here need time to develop their entrepreneurial skills, which is what this childcare center provides them.” iDE’s support for the center is based on guidelines developed with early childhood development experts.

Across the globe iDE focuses on women entrepreneurs

Prosperity isn’t gender neutral. Women in the developing world face additional barriers when it comes to economic emancipation. For example, a 2022 report by Nepal’s National Women Commission said local women were “pushed backwards” by poor education and healthcare, financial constraints, anomalistic social psychology, malpractice, superstitious disbelief and domestic violence. But investing in business women can also bring about positive change – not only for women themselves. Based on the latest evidence, and in keeping with our commitment to impact people at the margins, iDE is increasingly focusing on women entrepreneurs. We recognize that when women prosper, they deliver benefits for their families and their communities. That’s why we are aiming for 80 percent of our projects to be considered “gender transformative” meaning our programming addresses the social, cultural, and market dynamics that perpetuate barriers confronted by women-owned and led businesses.

Sita Devi Budha making tricho-vermcompost at a commercial buffalo farm

"I want to set an example for other women."

Some 150 miles to the east of Surkhet, close to Lumbini, the historic birthplace of Buddha, Sita Devi Budha, works at a commercial buffalo farm, established to produce milk and breed calves. But when the dairy business began losing money, the association behind the farm, made up mostly of women, started a new venture, producing tricho-vermicompost, an organic fertilizer made by treating manure with red earthworms and mixing it with Trichoderma, an antagonistic fungus. “Sometimes my husband gets angry when I come here,” laughs Sita, who works up to five hours a day at the dairy. Sita says most local women in her village are uneducated and remain in their home, depending on their husbands for spending money. “I want to set an example, showing women not to just sit around talking. They can make their own money like me.”

To start the tricho-vermicompost business, iDE provided financing, helping the association build concrete pits where the compost is made from dung left behind by the association’s 85 buffalos. Sita and the other women collect the fresh manure in wheelbarrows from a barn where the buffaloes are housed, and then pile it outside. Once partly dry, association members transfer the dung into pits before worms are added to the mix. The worms, also provided by iDE, eat the dry manure and excrete castings, which are gathered and sifted by hand, separating out unwanted organic matter. The remaining vermicast, which resembles black dirt, is then mixed with iDE-provided Trichoderma, used to reduce soil pathogens and promote higher yields, and is shoveled into canvas bags, which are sealed with a hand-held sewing machine, also supplied by iDE, before 5 and 25 kg bags are sold to farmers at a local market. Sita says she enjoys the work and particularly likes to wash the buffalos before milking. “I struggled against the traditional mindset that only men go out and work. I was very stubborn and told myself I just had to do it. I tell other women to do the same."

Tulasi Poudel, center, president of the Khola Krishi Upaj collection center, alongside women who bring their produce here to sell

Rural women can now sign their names

Setting up rural collection centers, where farmers bring their harvests and sell to bulk buyers, has been a hallmark of iDE’s approach in Nepal. The centers save farmers valuable time and money, as they would ordinarily be forced to travel long distances to large towns to sell their crops. Run by cooperatives with officers elected by the community, the commerce centers double as community hubs, where people, government and business come together to discuss challenges such as climate change, pest management and the use of crop calendars to diversify production. “Our approach improves community governance, developing leadership and job opportunities for women and the other marginalized people, who can become important role models,” says iDE Nepal country director Prajuna KC.

But the Mardi Khola Krishi Upaj collection center, near Pokhara, in central Nepal, has taken on an additional role: as a resource for teaching women basic reading and writing skills. Run by an all-women collective, the center’s primary purpose is to bring women farmers and buyers together, to make it easier to sell produce. Money earned by the women is used for day-to-day expenses and to start bank accounts for their children. But center members realized that illiteracy, much higher among Nepali women than their male counterparts, was a major barrier to their prosperity. “Some of these women didn’t even know how to sign their names,” said Tulasi Poudel, 70, president of the collection center, who said most rural Nepali women of her generation hadn’t been to school. However, since setting up the center, members had received informal literacy training from educators recommended by local government officials. Poudel said women gathered around kerosene lamps in the evenings and learned the alphabet, and how to read basic words. Says Poudel, “If a mother in a Nepali family is educated, the whole family receives an education, as well as healthcare, nutritious food, and life skills. Everyone benefits.”

Illustration and design by Rubab Islam.

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