Creating Role Models for Women in Nepal

June 04, 2014

It’s a well-known fact: Female role models matter when it comes to opening more doors to more women.

So when Rabita Rajkarnikar looked around rural communities in Nepal and found that women there didn’t have many role models to encourage their financial independence, she decided to do something.

Soon after returning to her native Nepal to advance her career in architecture and community development, Rajkarnikar applied for an AAUW International Project Grant to help women with limited education and resources generate income. Her project targeted a group of 75 rural Nepalese women who, lacking any formal education, faced significant challenges finding work.

In many impoverished communities, a patriarchal society and a dearth of educational opportunities prevent women from making a living. Rajkarnikar thought that one of the major roadblocks to women’s economic empowerment was the lack of real-life role models. 

“My main objective when I applied for the grant was to empower and increase the living standards of these women,” Rajkarnikar told us over e-mail. “The hope was that they would in turn inspire other women in their communities to decrease societal dependence on men through actively seeking their own economic empowerment.”

A woman stands in front of a room full of Nepalese women.

Rajkarnikar (far left) leads one of her workshops to teach Nepalese women about financial management, job skills, and legal resources.

Rajkarnikar felt that it would take only a few role models rising up in the community to have a positive impact. And she also knew the desire among women was there. They wanted to provide for their families, but they lacked the skills, resources, and confidence to attain what they had seen so few achieve.

Deciding that she was not satisfied simply serving as a role model, Rajkarnikar set to work developing other women role models in the community. She taught women marketable and entrepreneurial skills like embroidering and sewing. With the aid of local organizations, Rajkarnikar ensured that the women had access to legal resources and small, no-interest loans, which would limit any financial burden to their families.

One year after completing the training program, these same women have “become advocates of training women to be independent economically,” Rajkarnikar said.

Today, Rajkarnikar can see the lasting impact of her project. The women who participated in programs to enhance their knowledge of economic and legal rights in Nepal are currently branching out to soap-making and cash crop trainings, while others found the encouragement to start small businesses or found work in factories. Many of those who received skill development trainings now reap the rewards of an improved standard of living and are securing a better education for their children.

What’s more, Rajkarnikar noted that a positive self-image blossomed among the participants, who have discovered tangible skills they can use to contribute to their families’ household income.

“The greatest success [that] came from this project was that the participant women are now role models for their families and the community,” she said. These women show a “determination for success and most importantly … faith in womanhood.”

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Program Associate Theon Gruber Ford.




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