On a recent Thursday I trudged through the rain, flooded and uneven muddy streets and sidewalks, in order to attend a program titled, the “Collective Campaign on Women’s Proportionate and Inclusive Participation in Upcoming Election”. The Nepal Academy auditorium was filled to capacity with more than 700 people, primarily women, in attendance. This program was sponsored by Sankalpa a Women's Alliance for Peace, Justice, and Democracy. Sankalpa is a very inclusive organisation and literally means a resolve, a promise, a commitment, and determination. The Organisation strives to give voice, genuine space, dignity and respect to Nepali women in the new constitution and is working towards the "Mission 50/50" Campaign, meaning proportionate and representative participation of women at all levels of the peace process and in all state structures. Sankalpa is also working on a national campaign for a minimum 33% female representation in the upcoming election.
As I left the program, it was continuing to rain. I walked in and out of puddles, approaching the main road and a university where I encountered a number of police. As I looked up and down the street, I noticed that there were no vehicles, which was odd for 3 PM. I saw a number of students in the street who apparently were part of the Akhil Force, a youth organisation under the student wing of the CPN-UML, All Nepal National Free Student Union (ANNFSU). A few speeches were being made and after about 15 minutes the students and police scattered and traffic resumed.
On Friday as part of the NTV Inspirations Show I Interviewed Bhakta Bishwakarma, Chairperson of the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organisation (NNDSWO) established in 1982 when it was not allowed to even utter the term ‘Dalit’. The Organisation focuses on ending ‘caste-based discrimination’ and ‘untouchability practices’ throughout Nepali Society, as well as Dalit focused development programs and advocating for socio-economic, cultural, political and educational rights. Throughout the interview Bhakta told me stories of personal discrimination and how he worked to overcome his seemingly life’s fate, in order to become an advocate and now lead NNDSWO.
On Sunday I went to a mass rally and disability bazaar, at City Hall, which included more than 300+ people, for the, “Launching of the UNICEF State of the World’s Children’s Report-Children with Disabilities”. Since I spend a good deal of time in helping to facilitate disability sports, this was an opportunity for me to be with a variety of differently abled people, who were taking advantage of opportunities and participating in life. The performances at the Launch by differently abled people, including the Captain of the Nepal Army Wheelchair Basketball Team and his dancing partner Roma Neupane, were so very touching. However, the rally and bazaar brought up a number of questions for me including how to increase accessibility for differently abled people in Kathmandu, as well as, how to increase sensitivity to this issue throughout society.
On Monday evening I was able to interview nine men and women who are Dalit, Haruwa/Charuwa who were staying at CSRC and advocating, with government officials, for their rights. Through a translator I was able to hear their stories of being illiterate, living in poverty and long-term generational “bondage”, leaving little future hope for their children.
The common thread that I see in all of this is that like the rain flooded, muddy streets and sidewalks, life is a struggle and is messy, and there is no straight, level path, especially if a group is considered to be “marginalised”. I realize how important it is to live in a society which allows and enables those who are considered marginalised to be heard. But real change will only come if all sectors, i.e. government, civil society and corporates can come together. In some sense all of the events, although there was media coverage, but as witnessed by those in attendance, were “preaching to the choir”.
These glimpses into some of the challenges and issues facing Nepal, provides me with hope that if advocacy efforts continue in a pro-active manner, more inclusion, over the long term, might become a way of life.