How we turn women into entrepreneurs

Women face an extremely tough life in the remote Himalayan regions of Nepal. At Norlha, we work closely with them to give them the opportunity to generate their own income by becoming farming entrepreneurs.

Janaki Gurung

Janaki Gurung, a 22 year old farmer living in Thulogaun (Nepal), runs a thriving goat breeding business in her village. “I want to become a role model farmer in my village and show that even women can earn and support their family” she says. This is an ambitious goal for a woman in a rural Himalayan region, where life is made especially hard by deeply entrenched discrimination.

Girls and women have only limited access to education. In Nepal’s remote regions, only half of women are literate, as opposed to 70% of men. Due to male out-migration, women contribute more and more to farming – the mainstay of rural life. A 16-hour working day is common, with women dividing their time between heavy manual farm work, the home and the family. As this work is evidently unpaid, women count heavily among the rural poor.

Alleviating women’s extreme poverty

Back in 2013, Norlha began implementing its Kheti programme, which focused on fighting extreme poverty by developing farming. We started helping men and women farmers ensure food security year-round and generate a small income through improved agricultural practices.

We quickly noticed that women were faced with additional barriers that prevented them from fully benefiting from the project.

As a result, we developed in the district of Rasuwa our first project specifically targeting women, Mahila: women and farming as a business. Since the end of 2014, we have been working closely with 125 women farmers and their families, promoting women’s agricultural entrepreneurship, increasing their decision-making power to help them unlock their full potential.

Janaki Gurung joined this project. A former labourer, the project enabled her to accomplish her ambition of supporting her family of four financially.

Easing the burden of the daily grind

To allow Janaki and other women farmers to pursue their goals, we had to remove some of the practical obstacles that prevent rural women from engaging in training and income generating activities.

We provided new equipment such as gas stoves, water tanks or maize shellers and so reduced by two to three hours the time women spent daily on gruelling manual work. New machinery not only allowed women time to participate in our training sessions, but also gave them more time for their businesses, education and family-related activities.

The importance of education

Janaki’s hopes have then been made possible by the training sessions we organised. We started by offering literacy classes and followed up with workshops on managing their farming businesses. We made sure every woman could keep track of her spending and savings, take out loans for investment and gain market access for her goods.

We set up awareness-raising workshops for men and women in a challenge to gender-based stereotypes. Women learned about their rights, how discrimination affects them and discovered their potential. A life skills and leadership training helped women like Janaki Gurung deal effectively with difficult situations in their daily lives. “It is thanks to the training that I have become a different and more confident person” said Janaki.

Toward a brighter future

NPL_0479Women who participated in the project have been able to develop their own businesses and generate their own income. Many of them also told us they now feel included in important family decisions and are less dependent on family members. Today, Janaki Gurung runs a successful business. As part of another of Norlha’s project, Kheti Rasuwa, she could train as a goat breeder and was supplied with five goats to help her start up. She breeds and rears goats and then sells once adult to a nearby market. Goats are popular among Nepalis for their meat and for religious rituals.

Janaki Gurung now earns between 10,000 and 15,000 Nepali rupees a month (CHF 100 to 150), three times the average household income in her village. This income not only covers her household expenses but is also used to invest in goat rearing. Farming was once an essential means to stave off hunger, but now for many women it is a business offering a sustainable source of income and independence.


© Norlha | Helping people in the Himalayas