Location: ActionAid Country Office, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Date: 26th September 2006
Due to the need to get to Tibet before the winter snows made the roads impassable, we didn’t have enough time to visit any project sites in Nepal. However, we did manage to spend a few hours getting the low down on ActionAid’s activities in Nepal from Fundraising and Communications Manager, Archana Sharma. Archana explained the Rights Based Approach that ActionAid is pioneering amoung the NGO sector and detailed many of the problems that ActionAid is endeavouring to address in Nepal.
ActionAid’s mission in Nepal is “to empower poor and excluded people to eradicate poverty and injustice”. The phrase “excluded people” is initially confusing. Excluded from who or from what? The answer lies in Nepal’s Hindu caste system which although not as strong as it is in India, is still a powerful social force. The Hindu caste system distinguishes groups of people by their descent and surname. There are five castes, each of which supposedly has a higher or lesser degree of ritual purity and social status. The uppers castes are the Brahmin (priest) and Kshatriya (warrior) castes. The lower castes are the Vaishya (merchant) and sudra (peasant) castes. Beneath these are the Dalits (or untouchables). In the cities, where there is better education, the caste system is recognised as being obsolete. However, in the countryside, low paid, menial jobs are inevitably filled by Dalits. Dalits are routinely discriminated against by the other castes and there are cases of intra-dalit discrimination.
ActionAid works with over 100 local partner organisations in Nepal to raise awareness amoung Dalits of their own rights. Discrimination due to caste has been illegal in Nepal since 1963. However, many Dalits are unaware of their rights under the law and accept the social system as it stands. By setting up social groups where Dalits can organise to demand their rights, ActionAid is empowering these excluded people to obtain a better life for themselves. These methods have proven successful and caste-based discrimination is gradually decreasing in ActionAid programme areas. In other areas, Dalit children are now attending schools which they were previously denied access to.
Another major area that ActionAid is involved in is Women’s Rights. 57 women’s groups, with membership of over 1,200 women were formed in 2005. These groups are engaged in educating local women about their rights and how they can claim them. In rural areas, it is common for women not to obtain birth and marriage certificates. This can lead to problems later. For example, husbands could remarry and deny that they were ever married to their spouse. Claiming free primary education for children could also be a problem if there was no birth certificate to identify the child. Initiatives carried out by ActionAid through its partner organisations have led to an increase in the number of registrations of vital events such as birth and marriage which enables people to claim their rights.
Recognising that the role of government is key in effecting change in many areas, one of ActionAid’s main objectives is to influence government and other key national and international agencies in the formulation of pro-poor policies. This is carried out through the organisation of demonstration marches and rallies and the direction lobbying of local and national government. Successes in this area include the abolition of dual-taxing of farmers growing herbs on private land, the effective rehabilitation of former bonded labourers, an increase in the budget for the prevention and treatment of AIDS and the enforcement of law guaranteeing equal wages for men and women.
During our brief visit, we got a good overview of the work that ActionAid is doing in Nepal. However, Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries and the problems its people face are numerous.
For more information on these issues see: