Despite the fact that the Constitution does not differentiate between men and women, women in Nepal face difficulty accessing education or a political voice, with females almost twice as likely to be illiterate than their male counterparts. Entrenched social norms ensure that women are not considered equal to men. Key among the challenges the women face includes poverty, unemployment and social discrimination. Despite the obstacles Nepalese women face, there are local and international organizations working for women’s empowerment.
One such organization working towards the economic empowerment of women is the Business Service Centre (BSC) works to reinforce women’s self esteem to become entrepreneurs by promoting conscious choices and overcoming barriers within the family and the community. The local organization FBPWN (Federation of Business and Professional Women, Nepal) is implementing the project BSC with the technical assistance of AIDOS (Italian Association of Women in Development)
According to Gabriella Cocco Greaves, Country Representative of Italian Association for Women in Development (AIDOS) in addition to social challenges like gender based violence, most families do not support women getting into business, women suffer low self esteem and a lack of confidence which makes women’s conditions severe. Consequently one of BSC key goals is to build the women’s confidence to get into business. BSC also tries to aims to build on the women’s existing skills.
“If there is a skill and the market is saturated they discourage the women from doing the same old product and find alternatives that are more marketable,” Gabriella explains.
Becoming a role model
32 years old Madhu Maharjan is among the women who have benefitted from a BSC project. Madhu and her friend Anju Maharjan used to attend meetings of a local NGO, Public Health Concern Trust -PHECT Nepal and it is through these meetings that they learnt about BSC.
Madhu says though she had a business she did not know how to work professionally especially on how to deal with the customers and market the products. She adds that she benefitted from BSC in terms of her business growth and management. Before she used to receive orders from just the local area where she works but now she receives order from Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Baktapur.
“I started my business with knitting and selling caps. When I attended the training I improved my embroidery skills and started teaching other women, at first they were 32, but by the end of the course they were only 16.Two of the women I have trained are working with me in my shop. Before I joined BSC I used to work from home. However after the training I gained the confidence to rent a room and start my shop.
Anju mentions that one of the biggest challenges that women face in Nepal is that most of the property in the family is usually in the son’s names so women do not own property that they can use as collateral to obtain loans. Family members are also often concern that business women do not have enough time for her family. In Nepal women are expected to take care of the domestic chores and often in an extended family context.
She says that being a successful bussiness woman despite having a family, has earned her respect in her community. “They now refer to me as a role model to others,” Madhu says
BSC does this by offering women comprehensive package of Business Development Services by training them on business orientation, business management and improving their technical skills. They also offer business counseling and product development and design (PD&D) to enhance the marketability of the goods produced by the women, based on the national and international market demand.
Additionally they work to link the women’s enterprises with national and international buyers who offer them more favorable conditions in financial and supply terms, link the women entrepreneurs with credit institutions to borrow loans and follow up to support the entrepreneurs until they are profitable and self sustainable.
Market linkages and product development
She is 34 years old and operates the family’s felt business. She lives in a household of seven- her husband, one child, parents in law and her husband’s grandmother. She also has a high school education.
She says before joining BSC she did not have any idea on how to expand her business but now she knows how to have a proper business plan and the business is now expanding and she is receiving orders from printing companies.
44 years old Durga Laxmi Maharjan has a diploma in doll making and is a married with three children.
“I used to sell the dolls in the streets of Bouddha. During Phect-Nepal meeting, she heard about BSC. She then Sebastian Alcala, a designer from Spain who was working as a social volunteer in PHECT Nepal. Sebastian taught me how to cut and put together fabric. I now know how to make different dolls from what I used to make earlier. With the new dolls, BSC was able to connect me to get orders from some shops in Kathmandu and from as far as Sweden. I hope to improve my skill and teach other women,” says Durga
Durga spends the money she makes from the business on her children’s education and on buying supplies for her business. She says her children and community are very proud of her.
In general, BSC mainly works with, underprivileged women aged between 18-50 years, bread-winner of the family (single, widows, separated, abandoned). The women should have some basic literacy and numeracy skills and be involved in income generating activity.
Meeting women’s needs
BSC’s approach is unique because it does not provide office or workshop premises, as it is practice with other projects, instead it concentrates on business skills, information and promotion. BSC also uses a flexible approach by providing services according to the women’s needs, i.e. it strives to be compatible with the women’s household activities. It is also market oriented as it emphasizes the importance of the market demands when assisting the women’s enterprises.
According to Gabriella, empowering women involves more than just improving their economic status. One must also consider the social aspects for example the legal and reproductive challenges. As such BSC tried to partner with other organizations working to improve women’s lot.
“We have established a referral system with local organizations which provide different services like legal aid, reproductive health care, GBV counseling, drugs rehabilitation, and other areas s that BSC has no expertise in. In this way we empower the women as a whole and not only in economic aspect,” Gabriella explains.
Some of the local partners include phect Nepal that in their Community Based Reproductive Health Care and Counseling Center (CBRHCC) in Kirtipur provide services related to reproductive health and councillling for victims of Gender Base Violence (GBV)..
BSC mostly works with women groups in four districts of Nepal: Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur and Nuwakot. The project works in villages with high number of deprived communities like the Tamang and Newari communities. Around 120 women and their families have benefited from the project.
For more information on this project that works to empowering women as a whole visit
BSC Project is co-funded by EU
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
This post was written jointly with Cathy Apalat from Uganda Media Women Association
About Nepal : Nepal is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People’s Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India. Nepal has a population of approximately 30 million with thirty percent of Nepalese live below the poverty line. ( Wikipedia)