The Power of Knowledge

The Power of Knowledge

Many of Fujel’s residents are Dalits and for centuries, people of so-called higher castes have forbidden them to enter the temple. Although Dalits are also Hindu, they are prevented from practicing their religion in local temples, because they perceive Dalits as impure.

ADWAN has worked with Dalit women in Fujel for years and now has 11 groups in that area. In response to the violence, some of them decided to act. Phunu Pariyar a respected Dalit leader understands social action. She organized a number of women, who, dressed in their finest lined up in front of the temple. Prepared for the worst, but with quiet determination, the women entered the temple one by one bearing their gifts of flowers and tikka powder. To everyone’s surprise, no-one lifted a hand, as they completed their worship and quietly went home. Since that spring day, Dalits worship in the Fujel temple along with everyone else. This is because it is generally known, that these particular women, members of ADWAN groups, are knowledgeable about their rights– as women and as Dalits. The traditionalists, who used violence to preserve the status quo, were quite aware that their actions are illegal. But now, thanks to ADWAN they comply with the law. ADWAN’s women are introduced to concepts of human rights in their early literacy training and through discussions at group meetings. In addition, ADWAN holds community wide workshops where women learn how to lodge a complaint if their rights are violated.

ADWAN held such a workshops through the EU funded project for the women in Fujel and other 5 vdcs. It was a highly visible affair and many non-Dalit community members participated, too. We are proud of the women’s actions that day, and of the entire community for letting the women show them how to live together in harmony. Since that spring day, Dalits worship in the Fujel temple along with everyone else. This is because it is generally known, that these particular women, members of ADWAN groups, are knowledgeable about their rights– as women and as Dalits. The traditionalists, who used violence to preserve the status quo, were quite aware that their actions are illegal. But now, thanks to ADWAN they comply with the law.

ADWAN’s women are introduced to concepts of human rights in their early literacy training and through discussions at group meetings. In addition, ADWAN holds community wide workshops where women learn how to lodge a complaint if their rights are violated. ADWAN held such a workshop for the women in Fujel in 2009 at the local school. It was a highly visible affair and many non-Dalit community members participated, too. We are proud of the women’s actions that day, and of the entire community for letting the women show them how to live together in harmony.

Women Stage Sit-In At Village Council Office

Women Stage Sit-In At Village Council Office

The women from several self heop women groups publicly challenged their local leaders with an embarrassing question: “Where is our money?”

In Nepal each village was governed by a Village Development Committee (VDC), which is traditionally made up of men — typically wealthy “upper caste” men. Recognizing the importance of including society’s most marginalized citizens, Nepal’s government annually earmarks 15% of all rural development aid to Dalits and women. However, in most communities women and Dalits have no idea of this arrangement, and traditional local leaders usually see no reason to change that.

But thanks to the human rights training funded by ADWAN donors, the Khanchikot women knew that they had almost $1000 coming to them and had already made plans to invest in collective poultry farming. When the money wasn’t forthcoming they asked where their money was. They received only an evasive answer from the VDC and months went by with no sign of the money. Finally, the women showed up in force at the VDC office to demand an answer. With no further explanation, the VDC secretary claimed the money had already been released and they should just go home!

The women responded by organizing an investigation to follow the money trail. They found concrete evidence that the VDC secretary and another local leader had invested it for their own personal gain. In response, a large group of women and men, Dalits and non-Dalits alike showed up at the VDC office. They padlocked it shut, then settled down to wait. As the demonstration grew, the issue received wide attention. After five days the VDC members relented and released the cash.

ADWAN organized five women’s groups with a total of 104 women in Khanchikot, Arghakhachi District in 2007-2010. Empowerment training, human rights awareness and conflict resolution training have increased the women’s confidence immensely. Under the able leadership of fieldworker, Shubhakala Nepali the women’s savings and loan group activities have engendered strong solidarity. All this prepared the women to take skillful action in a community matter of great importance to them, and to win a great victory.

Provided with a few simple tools through education, and savings and loan activities, the women themselves become the agents of change. ADWAN’s low-cost, bottom-up approach to sustainable development works!