The election is over. The government is in place. Stability seems to be taking root. There is hope in the air. Nepal is looking for better days ahead.
Things look promising. But think a little deep and a sense of fright and apprehension creeps in. Hope among the masses means responsibility for the powers that be. And if the past is anything to go by, Nepal’s ruling class, comprising diverse dispensations and parties, has little to crow about effective delivery mechanism. Most times, promises have not translated into reality. The country continues to languish as a basket case depending on the largesse of foreign forces that have their own axes to grind. Self-reliance is still a pipe dream for Nepal.
Business 360 is devoted to exploring and presenting a holistic view of the country’s economy and business. Its readers are astute practitioners, observers and analysts of the world of commerce. I, therefore, do not feel the need to dabble with facts, figures, data and policies hitherto so well known to them.
However, for quite some time, I have been pondering over our sad state of affairs. I have ultimately arrived at a very simple inference. Nepal is suffering because we have ignored and neglected the potential of half of our population? I am talking of our womenfolk.
Visit our markets, big or small, agricultural land, up in the hills or down in the plains, hubs of indigenous craft, dairy units rearing milch cattle and beasts of burden, junior schools, nursing staff in hospitals, etc. and you will invariably find women running the show. They are most efficient at multi-tasking. They bear children, manage whatever big or small businesses, and tend and care for the entire household comprising old in-laws too.
What more can our women do when our system has failed and forced lakhs of our able-bodied but poorly trained young men to foreign shores for low level jobs? Our migrant sons sweat it out in inhuman conditions abroad and contribute close to 30% of our GDP. Our great women folk lead the lives of forced widows in their homeland whose patriarchal and orthodox system denies them their due. In this context, how ironical does the following age-old phrase sound: the hand that rocks the cradle, rocks the world?!
Moreover, it is criminally stupid to neglect half the population of our country. Imagine what wonders can our well trained women do to our economy. They have already proved their mettle in small and micro businesses, agriculture, horticulture and even climbing the Everest. What they have not done is what we have forbidden them from. The male ego has been suppressing the ‘mahila shakti’ to its own and the country’s disadvantage.
Let me quote a passage from an article penned by eminent Indian journalist and editor Chaitanya Kalbag: “…from prehistoric times (long pre-dating the earliest recognised origins of Hinduism with the compilation of the Rig Veda around 3,500 years ago) when early Homo erectus bands of hunter gatherers foraged across our peninsula, we have revered the mother goddess. Combined with the worship of the elements – earth, fire water and air – you can call them pagan or animistic beliefs – our culture is far older than the arguments going around these days about where Hinduism came from, and whether it was imported or sprang from our soil.
“Whatever ideological winds are driving this ship, it is worth remembering… that our regard for Shakti is rooted in primeval instincts. It is significant that in every Hindu temple the place where the deity, whether male or female, is enshrined is called the garbha-griha (literally womb-chamber).”
It is a pity that we are still caught in the web of horrific gender discrimination, misogyny, bigotry and objectification of women. Trafficking of Nepalese girls and women continues across the borders. Only ceremonial positions go to a small number of influential women.
Financial freedom and economic empowerment of women will help not only Nepalese women but the entire nation. After all, they form half the country’s human resource.
There is no dearth of proven research that working women tend to spend money more wisely for the family viz. nutritious food, healthcare and education. They negotiate better bargains for household purchases, thus creating a pathway out of poverty for the family. This will naturally change the perception of the males about them.
But what have successive governments done to uplift the status of women in different spheres of life? To convert our women into a bulwark of economic activity, the authorities need to execute well thought and realistic schemes to establish their ties with agricultural markets, open digital bank accounts for them on war footing, create a dense network of self-help groups with special access to micro-finance bodies.
To ensure ease of business and gender parity, it is also imperative that short-term business courses be launched for girls and women. Aspiring business eves need not possess high qualifications; class VIII pass would do. The focus should be on innovation and out-of-box thinking. A mechanism should be put in place so that all women-welfare schemes of the government are communicated down to the village level. Effective monitoring and audit should assess and evaluate execution of these schemes. Help of the mass media can be sought to highlight entrepreneurial success by women in neighbouring countries. Seeing is believing. I strongly believe that resources cannot be a limiting factor if the will to succeed is there.
The new government is blessed with a five-year tenure. It cannot be held to ransom by small coalition partners. This is the time to alleviate the lot of Nepal’s sturdy and hard-working women.
I have dwelt upon the plight of the women who are at the bottom of the ladder. At the same time, we need to infuse an aspirational change in the mind-set of those who are already better placed. While launching a competitive manufacturing unit may be a tough call for young girls and women, launching digital/information technology start-ups should not be such an uphill task in the land of Sagarmatha.
Remember that many of the modern captains of IT industry in the West were college dropouts. We need the “Can do, will do” spirit to get going. Launching educational and training institutions to prepare youth in IT or IT enabled Service (ITeS) is far less expensive than setting up full-fledged colleges in other disciplines. NIIT, Aptech, etc in India were not engineering colleges or universities to begin with. But their training fetched jobs for millions and made India an IT powerhouse.
Digital marketing is emerging as a major job creator. It can be easily mastered by both boys and girls who are familiar with computers. Thanks to Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, computer games, app creation, etc. many boys and girls become aware of the basics at a very young age. They need encouragement and support. For that they need not rush to ‘institutes’ charging fancy fees. With a WiFi link, you can easily attend not just IT classes but also in many other job-worthy disciplines, and that too at your own home and pace. Many of them are free too. The fun is that most such learners can operate from their homes and save precious time.
What the government needs to do is to launch an awareness campaign amongst girls and women, and why not men too, create a dedicated team of counsellors, tie up with institutions that deliver the service, and thus create a new revenue stream for Nepal. We have to move with the times and look at new employment avenues and skills.
Why can’t we leverage our labour arbitrage and emerge as a medical hub in the region? We can begin with less complex medical procedures and build a name over time. It is certainly better than training our girls as nurses, all too eager to fly away to the West.
Last but not the least, the government should reserve jobs for eligible women in different sectors. Why not start with primary and junior teaching? A good lesson indeed!
Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. (firstname.lastname@example.org)