Photos and text by NIRJANA SHARMA
Only a few years ago, Radha Nepal had lost all her hopes for a better life. Dependent solely on the paltry income of her husband, her family of six struggled for two meals a day.
Radha lost her father when she was six months old. Before long, she dropped out of school as her mother could not afford it. With this, her dream to lead a self-dependent life simply shattered.
Originally from Gulmi District, she was married off to Khasyouli of Palpa district, to live a life of domestic drudgery.
Then life offered a second chance to her when she was already 42. In 2003, the government started post-literacy class in her village located some three kilometers from the district headquarters, Tansen.
To make the post-literacy program employment-oriented, the District Education Office had also formed Community Learning Center (CLC) groups that provided vocational trainings to women.
Following the training, the group would also receive Rs 10, 000. And the trainees were asked to collectively chip in another Rs 10,000 to make it a total of Rs 20,000, which was to be utilized to begin new occupations or micro entrepreneurship in the community.
Radha felt that her prayers have finally been answered. She had longed for such an opportunity all her life, and the day had finally come when she was going to receive a small amount to start an enterprise.
“Keeping aside Rs 1,000 in a bank account, we started a group farming project with an investment of Rs19,000,” recalls Radha, who is now 52 years old.
A decade on, the Rs 20,000 that Radha’s group had invested for the enterprise has multiplied dramatically. The recently held annual general assembly of the Khasyauli CLC declared that its total income has reached Rs 7.2 million.
“Today, Radha is a role model for women who want to learn to read and write and become independent,” says Meen Prasad Dhakal, a resource person with the Khasyauli CLC.
According to Dhakal, this CLC alone has provided employment opportunity to 756 women who had participated in the vocational training. And there are 84 such groups, each with nine women, involved in income generating activities using local resources.
The post-literacy program has also helped in transforming the lives of women from the most marginalized communities.
Today, the folks in Khasyauli admire 32year-old Binu Gautam since she “performs her responsibilities as the eldest son of the family.” Being the eldest of five siblings, with two brothers and three sisters, Binu had the responsibility to look after her aging mother and younger siblings.
Had Binu not been a Dalit, she would have received good education and perhaps a high-paying job. When she was a child, there was no school in her village, and girls, especially those from the Dalit community, were not allowed to attend class with so-called upper-caste children.
She probably would not have stood a chance to transform her life had it not been for the post-literary program in the district. The campaign provided an opening to her – to start ginger and cinnamon farming.
“Entrepreneurs from as far as India visit us to buy ginger and cinnamon grown here,” says Binu excitedly.
“For those whose husbands have gone to the Gulf for employment, literacy and income-generating skills are the opportunities to strengthen their presence in the family in absence of male members. And those who once had no money now don’t have to depend on their husbands’ favor to get a pair of new bangles,” she adds.
As many as 24 such CLCs are effective in the districts at present, and five more are in the pipeline.
It is noteworthy that Bhairavnath where Kasyouli is situated is the first such in the country to achieve total literacy, as declared by Non-Formal Education Centre (NFEC) on January 19 this year.
“Women’s literacy campaign has also significantly raised the agro productivity of the district,” says Rajan Bhandari, CLC Division Chief of the District Education Office.
Each CLC group makes a joint investment in animal husbandry and farming. Even women with no money are now capable of leasing plots of land for farming and to support the education of their children on their own, says Palpa’s District Education Officer Prem Nath Poudel.
Praising the achievement of the campaign in Palpa, NFEC Director Baburam Poudel says that the district had fared exceptionally well from the beginning of this literary campaign for women when the rest of the districts are yet to take it seriously.
A decade ago, in 2001, Nepal’s literacy rate stood at 54.1%, which grew to 65.9%, with 11.8% of decadal growth by 2011. However, the sustained campaign of non-formal education has brought about a sea change in the living standard and economic growth of many districts over the recent three years, government officials claim.
“Even though we’ve missed the target by 200,000 per year since 2011. The per-year increment in literacy data is above 2% now,” said the NFEC Director.
The gender audit report of the School Sector Reform Program states that there is only a marginal difference in promotion rates between boys and girls for Grades Six to Eight. While the promotion rate for boys stands at 88.1%, 88% of girls advance to the higher levels each year.
Since 2007, girls showed an improved promotion rate than boys at the primary level, with 84.3% proceeding to Grade Five as compared to 81.7% boys. Likewise, the graduation rate at the basic level from Grade One to Eight stands at 60.2% for girls, and 57.7% for boys.
The overall survival rate to Grade Eight is 69.4% as compared to 67.5% in the last academic year. It is at present 68.7% for boys and 71.1% for girls.
He adds, “The other half of the sky has lot to prove – something which is beyond men’s imagination,”
The DEO is reaching out to the extremely marginalized Thami community, asking them to send their daughters to school besides encouraging its women to attend the literacy classes.
The national census report shows that the marginalized Thami community’s population stands at 28,671. Most of them live in the Lapilang area of Dolakha with 21,537 of them living in the mountains, and 4,150 in the hills of the Central Region.
Down in the central Tarai, too, the situation is turning in women’s favor, especially in Parsa District. Among the eight worst indicators on all aspects of education, Parsa is one of the Tarai districts with the highest dropout rate for girls. As the government data reveals, the gender disparity is such that only 9,221 women have completed education above the SLC level, compared to 23,155 men.
With the commencement of the literary classes, Chhatapipara Village’s residents, especially its women, have taken the lead to send their daughters to school even after marriage. Even those girls who dropped out earlier have started resuming school.
“I got married when I was a fifth grader. But I’ll pursue higher education now,” says 17-year-old Sharda Paswan of Parsa.
To further promote girls’ access to education, the Ministry of Education (MoE) is endorsing a new rule aimed at achieving cent percent universal basic education by the end of 2015 to meet a key Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target. This comes at a time when the net enrollment rate at Grade One stands at 95.3%. A flash report prepared by the government last year also states that the dropout rate at the primary level has not improved much.
As a lead-up to the enforcement of the Act, the MoE has already announced to prohibit those guardians from social security allowances if they defy the new rule.
According to MoE Spokesperson Mahashram Sharma, the Ministry earlier coordinated with the Ministry of Local Development and Federal Affairs to restrict individual’s access to old age allowance and single women allowance if they turn a deaf ear to the government’s appeal.
Similarly, an individual would also be prohibited from soft loans of less than 2% interest rate if he or she does not send their children to school.
When Radha dropped out from school 40 years ago, Nepal’s literacy rate had hardly touched a double digit. Today, female literacy stands at 57.4%, though it is still a challenge to match the male achievement of 75.1%.
Source- Republica Daily