Breaking barriers, gaining confidence, and speaking out

Thanks to a radio program produced by EAI, women farmers in Nepal are speaking up about the resources and services promised by the local government. Read about Amana, who found her voice.

“I went to the municipal office to get information about the services and benefits provided by the local government after listening to the [EAI’s] radio program. My concerns were not acknowledged properly by the officials and I could not get the information that I was looking for,” says Amana Khatun, recalling the first time she went to the municipality office in December 2020.

Amana Khatun is a 35-year-old Muslim woman farmer. Muslims are among the most socio-economically disadvantaged groups in Nepal as indicated by multiple studies, the national census, and human development indices. According to the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) 2016, only 26% of Muslim women in Nepal are literate while just 12% of Muslim girls complete secondary school. Like most Muslim women in her community, Amana did not have educational opportunities, and, coming from a family that upholds conservative values, Amana has faced gender disparity throughout her life. She feels powerless and does not think she has the skills to stand up for her rights, both within her family as well as in the larger community.

Amana is one of the women farmers engaged in an intervention led by Equal Access International, under the UN Women-supported JP-RWEE program to enhance the overall leadership skills of women farmers. EAI produced Sambal (“Mutual Strength”), a radio program that teaches empowering leadership and life skills to women farmers to build their equal participation in family and community life.

After listening to Sambal, Amana decided to visit her local government offices to ask about the resources and services allocated by the local government to women famers.  Regrettably, she was brushed off by the official and could not get any helpful information.

“I was dismissed by the officials and no one really gave me any useful information. I am not used to speaking in public or to authorities. I never thought that I would be able to reach out to the local leaders on my own. I heard that there are different local programs and budgets allocated for women and agriculture in the Sambal program and that we should make inquiries about it at our local offices. This encouraged me to take steps to solve the issues that I was facing. But the experience made me even less inclined to visit the government offices again after that,” shares Amana, recalling her initial experience at the municipal office.

Despite her discouraging first experience with the local leaders, Amana had another opportunity to engage. She was asked to participate in one of the Sambal open discussion shows where she could speak directly to the mayor over the radio and make her requests.

“At first I was hesitant to talk live in the radio program; I did not have the confidence. But I heard other women farmers like me talking in the program and share their problems and experiences. This helped me get over my fear and encouraged me to voice my concerns as well.”

Listening to her concerns during the show, the mayor invited her to visit him at his office where they would discuss the issues faced by Amana and other women farmers in her community. Amana and several of her fellow women farmers eagerly met with the mayor and shared their problems related to lack of fertilizers, seeds, and irrigation facilities. The mayor clearly explained the process and steps of local level budget planning and allocation process to the women. He also informed them that this year’s budget allocation process had been completed and their issues could not currently be addressed, but he encouraged them to participate in the next year’s planning process so that their priorities will be included in the following year.

Amana and her fellow group members have begun their active participation in the planning process for next year’s budget, ensuring that their priorities will be fully addressed and mitigated by the local government.

“Sambal … helped me to connect with my local leaders directly which had been a challenge for me in the past. It has also been instrumental in building my confidence. I was nervous to talk in the radio at first but now since I got the opportunity, I feel like I can confidently voice my concerns in front of the leaders and in public. I regularly listen to the radio program with my husband. In the past, I had to ask my husband before going to any meetings outside my house. But hearing me speak in front of the leaders on the radio, my husband has started trusting me more. These days, I do not need to ask for his permission to go to these meetings.”

 Sambal ... has been instrumental in building my confidence.