The Himalayan region’s population is 210 million. 15 million (7%) of these people live in remote mountain areas and are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the region. They invariably suffer from malnutrition, poor health and lack of education. They rely heavily on agriculture and are generally ill-equipped to deal with change
While the world has progressed towards gender equality & women’s empowerment under the SDG’s, in remote areas such as the remote Himalayas, women continue to suffer discrimination and violence. Raised in a patriarchal society, they face great hurdles and find themselves denied education and inclusion in public & economic life. Nepal & Bhutan are in the bottom 25% of countries listed in the Global Gender Gap scale
Members of remote Himalayan households are obliged to leave their villages to find work. Almost 80% of migrants are men, while women are left behind to take on heavy physical labour, working the land as well as coping with looking after family. “Feminization of agriculture” and “time poverty” are just two of the adverse results
Centre for Women in The Himalayas
Norlha, a Swiss iNGO setup in 2005 is an expert in development work in the most disadvantaged areas of the rural Himalayas. It specifically focuses on women’s and girls’ needs through its work with the Centre for Women in the Himalayas. Women make up 70% of Norlha’s beneficiaries, and Norlha’s work has provided us with valuable knowledge, dating back a decade, which helps us improve the lives of women and girls in the most isolated communities.
« At Norlha’s Centre for Women in the Himalayas we believe that women are the backbone of rural economies and family life. The driving force for sustainable development of remote communities in the Himalayas are undoubtedly women »
Women in the Himalayas
Women are the mainstay of rural Himalayan communities but face many hardships. They are not only the backbone of family life but often toil in the fields as the main breadwinners due to male mass emigration (80% of Nepali migrants are men). Women are vulnerable because of traditional social discrimination and low expectations; a high drop out rate from school and a low level of literacy are obstacles to self improvement while limited access to health services compromise their welfare. Economically, in 80% of Nepali households, women do not own any assets; poverty is their principal trap.
The impact of climate change on farming raises additional difficulties because women lack opportunities to adapt to new contexts. There is a growing need for both international and local communities to understand how best to meet the needs of women living and working in the Himalayas, what practices and policies have been tried and worked (or not worked and why), and how development agencies, NGOs and others can adjust their future approaches to be of maximum service to those women and their communities. There is need for a structured approach to information gathering, operational practice and lesson learning concerning women in the Hima-layas, and a need for all of it to be analysed and shared among those who can use and apply it.
“Women contribute tirelessly towards the betterment of their families and community. However, their influence has often been overlooked. Women in rural areas in the Himalayas face challenges especially because, being women, they have been deprived of an education and access to and control over resources, decision-making, mobility etc. Expectations surrounded by beliefs and practices rooted in a patriarchal society have created hurdles that limit women in the private sphere and exclude them from the public sphere. Hence to escape this situation and exclusion, the struggle for equality continues”.
Rationale behind the CWH
We have completed research aimed at mapping organisations working on women’s empowerment and gender equality (or having an important portfolio of gender initiatives / projects). The research covered the Himalayan region, with emphasis on the countries and regions in which Norlha operates, (Nepal, Bhutan and China/Tibet). The study covered 259 organisations, including NGOs, iNGOs and IOs as well as actors from academia. The Centre’s objectives have been designed to address matters (areas of focus) deriving from the preliminary findings of the study:
Focus on rural women in isolated areas
The majority of organisations do not focus on women in remote rural areas but are usually working in those that are easily accessible. There is still an unmet need to reach the rural, and most remote and isolated places. Furthermore, the local organisations operating in such areas need to be equipped with knowledge and skills to enhance the quality in their work.
Gender equality and gender friendly society is not a one shot attempt.Different NGOs and INGOs working in different areas such as livelihood, health, security, governance and so forth, but with a strong gender perspective, need to have a greater coordination among themselves. The major benefits of such cooperation and synergies are to reduce unnecessary duplication of work, to learn from each other, to increase the effectiveness of results, and to strengthen credibility and make their voices
Increase aware-ness & capacity of organisations to mainstream gender, especially at a local level
There are many organisations in the Himalayas, focusing on gender equality and women’s empowerment at national, regional and local levels. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate into effective women’s empowerment practices. Many organisations seem to lack conceptual clarity related to gender equality and equity, and do not have capacity to mainstream it in their approaches. Therefore, there is a need for increased support on capacity building on gender equality and gender mainstreaming at both conceptual and practical level for better understanding and effectiveness.
Use and build on local practices and local knowledge
To make the changes sustainable in the long term, it is crucial to build on the local knowledge and practices and try to capitalise on them. There are few initiatives taken by few organisations in this regard by incorporating local people’s beliefs and practices into their strategy of effectiveness. However, it needs more research. The local people must stand as an agent for its preservation and promotion.
Bridge the gap between research and practice for gender equality
Evidence based research is of key importance to comprehend the situation and needs in a given context. More importantly, it helps to identify solutions & generates appropriate theory to understand and predict these. On the other hand, the focus of development practitioners is to map a local context and devise appropriate solutions to overcome on-the-spot problems, translating existing findings into practice. This requires experts, a solid theoretical approach, financial resources, as well as stronger cooperation between researchers & development practitioners which should be further encouraged.
* The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity (UN initiative, officially known as Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a set of 17 “Global Goals” with 169 targets between them).