Better the balance, Better the world: that is the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day. In past years, Helvetas Nepal has marked the day with celebrations, and a holiday for all women staff. This year in Kathmandu, we celebrated a day in advance, and all staff – women and men - have a holiday today.
Our theme for yesterday’s event was women’s economic empowerment. Gender norms, relations and expectations play a significant role in disadvantaging women economically; without a better balance between the sexes in terms of earnings and assets, women and men will never achieve equality. We therefore sought to recognize the steps that women and girls engaged in our projects have made in the regard, encouraging their entrepreneurship and employment. This brought us to the idea of organizing a mela - a festival with market stalls -within the premises of the Country Office. Fortunately, the day was sunny, and the stalls could be erected outside, in the garden and car parking area.
The mela brought together various women entrepreneurs, trainees and service providers who are connected to Helvetas projects. Even before the event officially opened at 11.30, there was a mood of festivity, with entrepreneurs and staff members setting up their respective stalls, displaying products and hanging their project posters and banners. A group of trainee professional cooks, neat in their white uniforms and caps, was busy preparing lunch for everyone; in the end they supplied 79 plates of momos as well as numerous filled rolls, chocolate brownies and other items. Overseen by a woman and a man supervisor, five of them were young woman (for a description of a woman who has already graduated under this program, run by the project ENSSURE, see this previous blog). They worked non-stop from 10.00 to 14.00 - but said afterwards what a great learning experience it had been.
Among the entrepreneurs was Nirmala Kumari Mahoto, a shoe entrepreneur from Hariwan, Sarlahi. Since last year, she and her husband have been jointly running a shoe business, after Nirmala received entrepreneurship and other business-related training support through the Elam project. (Click here to read more about Nirmala Mahoto’s story). Various Helvetas staff could be seen walking around in new footwear later in the day. Another stall that received many visitors was that of Bidhya Tara Tuladhar and Sharda Kunwar from Annapurna handicrafts. They arrived with large duffle bags full of textiles, purses, handicrafts, table runners and clothes entirely made of banana fiber. All proved popular. These women entrepreneurs have also been supported by Elam through business exploration, assessment of likely product successes, business plan preparation, technology and skill transfer. In addition, Elam has linked them to market opportunities, including various trade fairs and events.
Some 80 Helvetas staff participated in the event. In addition to setting up stalls to showcase the ways in which their projects contribute to women’s economic empowerment, some made more personal interventions. Three staff members read out poems that they had composed about women’s roles in society; another group presented a role play, and yet others displayed their own artwork. Meanwhile, in the large meeting room, various short project videos on women’s contributions to development were being shown. We also had two viewings of the Oscar-winning video Period. End of Sentence – which resonates strongly with our work on menstrual hygiene management in Karnali.
By 14.00 the food was finished, the stalls considerably emptier, and it was time to return to our office desks for the rest of the afternoon.