Be Bold for Change: Gender Transformative Change in Nepal Mountains

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A CFC member using handloom to weave allo fabrics in Khar.
Photo: Kalash Shakya, SABAH-Nepal

Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” And while we know this idea to be true, still many of us struggle to accept the idea of change. It is human nature to protest against transformation. It is even more surprising to observe such resistance amongst the so-called literate society, which advocates permutation, novelty and development. For me it is fear; a fear of isolation, a fear of withdrawal, and a fear of detachment. In an attempt to shield ourselves from fear, we often refuse to take risks. Today, all we need is the courage to accept transition, to be bold enough to bring the change that we wish to see in the world. 

The remote community of Khar in far-western Nepal provides one sterling example of the courage to change. Inhabited by many poor and marginalized people, residents of Khar scramble for their livelihoods as economic opportunities are few. Some gather yarshagumba, a caterpillar fungus that can fetch a good price in the market, but often not enough to help families get ahead. Many men migrate outside of Nepal in search of work, but these wages are also insufficient. 

Women in Khar lead difficult lives. Many of them marry at an early age, thus confining them to the household and preventing them from obtaining additional education. A generation ago it would have been unthinkable for these women to earn money working outside the home. However, with some assistance from ICMIOD’s Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative, this improbable dream has been turned into a reality. 

In 2012, KSLCDI approached this distant community with an idea to develop a value chain for allo or Himalayan nettle. Allo is a fiber-yielding plant well-known to the people of Khar. Traditionally allo ropes have been used to carry loads over the rugged terrain of Khar. People also used allo to make fishing nets and winter hats. However, the use of allo was limited to the household level. No one thought about allo as a product that could earn more income. 

Convincing people in Khar that allo could be a valuable commodity was not easy. No one said changes are easy. With much effort, people gradually warmed to the idea, and today, women in Khar produce allo that has become a much-sought after product for fabric and other uses. 

Today, Khar is home to a community facility center and an allo user group that combines their talents and efforts to generate more incomes for their families. There are more than 76 people who work with the Bhumiraj Processing and Collection Center, and 75% of those people are women.

“I used to weave allo for some uses, but with KSLCDI, now I can sell these products in the market,” said Guna Tamata. 

Women like Tamata now weave allow for a variety of items such as purses, bags, and cushion covers that are sold in stores in Katmandu. 

The change has meant more than additional income. For some, the trainings have boosted self-esteem,

“With improved skills and confidence, I consider myself a different person,” said Sunmati Maniyal, “I communicate with people and I also negotiate while selling allow mufflers in the local market.”

The additional income through allo is convincing some households to change their view of women.

“Life was not easy,” said Jogini Maniya. “I hardly earned 120 rupees per day. After I started working at the CFC, now I earn five to six thousand rupees per month, which is a lot to my family. I am determined to continue my work in weaving allo fabrics.”

Of course, this change cannot be all from one side. It would be unfair to undervalue the support of men in Khar. They have equally contributed to the change and without their back, the transition would not be possible for women.

“I feel happy to see our women able to think beyond their kitchens and the livestock,” said Govinda Singh Thagunna. 

Margaret Mead, a noted female cultural anthropologist, once said, “ Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” The confidence and determination of the women and men in remote Khar have made it possible for them to make a bold decision in their lives: a decision to take a step forward and create a new identity as a respected member of society. This year, on the occasion, of International women’s day, we celebrate the boldness of the people of Khar for choosing to make this CHANGE.                 


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