How women’s leadership changed the face of this rural Bajhang village
An agricultural village par excellence, Khori, in the municipality of Chhabis Pathibhera, underwent a wave of changes a few years ago.
Known as one of the most remote places in the whole Bajhang district, the village of Khori, located at an altitude of 2,650m above sea level, was once riddled with the evils of Chhaupadi, castes, gender disparities and violence.
The village of 120 families includes farmers who cultivate millet, buckwheat, wheat, potatoes and other crops in their fields. But it was mostly the women who worked in the fields while the male members spent hours playing cards and carom all day. In the evening, most of the men were in the local stores that sold alcohol. The men would go home every evening stumbling in their drunkenness.
Women, who spent the day working not only in the fields but also doing odd jobs to earn a daily wage to keep the family afloat, would be forced to hand over their earnings to their husbands so that they could drink more.
“The money we would earn by carrying heavy loads on our backs would be taken away from us. If we resisted, the men would beat us, ”said Kitti Devi Bohara, 40, from the village.
Bohara has a family of ten and her husband works in the fields. “I don’t even remember how many times my husband beat me and our children. He would come home drunk and ask for money, ”she said.
The same story would play out in every household almost every night, Bohara says.
“Fighting would break out; women and children could be heard crying in almost every house in the village as the drunken men returned home at night, ”she said.
There was no peace. The women desperately wanted their men to stay sober and contribute to the well-being of their families and communities.
So the women decided to do something and take the situation in hand.
“Initially, all the women in the village got together to form an informal committee. Then, we took charge of the users’ committee group. Our first decision was to stop the production of alcohol in the village, ”said Bhanuri Bohara, 60, another local woman. “We went to the local alcohol makers and asked them to stop. It was six or seven years ago. Since then, peace has returned to our village.
The women banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in the village and imposed a fine of 5,000 rupees on anyone coming to the village while intoxicated. The money collected from the fine was used for development projects in the village, Bhanuri said.
Ridding the village of alcoholism was the first step of the women in their attempt to improve the living conditions of the villagers. They took charge of most of the development projects under the responsibility of the users’ committee.
With women at the helm, the village has turned a new leaf. Whereas previously the rural roads were only open tracks and the lack of drinking water was an eternal problem, now the village roads are clean and the public spaces well maintained, and the drinking water problem belongs to the pass.
Gone are the days when women had to queue in front of the community well to fetch water. From now on, a drinking water tap has been installed in each household. With 66 percent of financial support from the Rural village water resources management project, the users’ committee has successfully launched a project in which each house has separate toilets and spaces for washing and drying utensils.
“Villagers contributed 34 percent of the total budget with money collected from fines on the consumption and sale of alcohol. The villagers also donated labor with technical support from the Rural Villages Water Resources Management Project, ”Bhanuri said.
All the developments that have taken place in the village over the past five years have occurred under the leadership of women. It took some time for men to get used to the idea of women making decisions, says Belu Devi Bohara, 37, secretary of the users’ committee.
“We told the men that they could leave the user committee and let the women take care of it if they had a problem with the women running the committee,” Belu said. “We took on projects and finished them well ahead of time. We completed a 15-month in eight-month water and sanitation management project.
Considering the high altitude situation in the village, it was difficult to grow vegetables. Before the transformation of the village, the villagers relied on salt, peppers and whey bread as their staple foods. The women quickly got into organic farming and learned how to build greenhouses that allow vegetables to grow at controlled temperatures. Nowadays, villagers always have a vegetable or two included in every meal.
“We now have enough water for consumption and for households. We therefore use the additional water to irrigate our vegetable fields. We asked the city authorities and the rural village water resources management project to help us, ”Sunita Buddha, 33, chair of the users’ committee, told the Post.
“They were satisfied with our initiative and built a tunnel for us to bring water to our fields. They also trained us in agro-food products, ”she said. “Today we are growing enough vegetables to feed the village. We sell the surplus to other villages.
The economic impact generated by the women of the village is commendable but what has changed the face of the village is social change, especially in gender issues.
Girls and menstruating women, pregnant women and new mothers no longer have to leave their homes for the chhau sheds, as has long been the practice.
“Before, women were gentle and didn’t know any better. We did not have the know-how of hygiene practices during the periods. But now everyone knows how to take care of yourself during your period. It was time we stopped sending our wives and children to sheds in chhau, ”said Chandana Japrel, another local woman, a 24-year-old woman. “Initially, there was some resistance from the elders in the community, but we held on. Now they are getting used to the new custom.
Women in the village now produce their own sanitary napkins, with older women teaching younger ones about its use and benefits over unhygienic options. The sanitary napkins they make use organic materials and women have even ventured into the commercial production of sanitary products.
Under the leadership of members of the Water and Sanitation Consumers Committee, the women have now started selling their local products in markets outside the village. “This has led to the economic empowerment of women. If a woman is financially independent there is not much she can do, ”said Shanti Bohara, 21, another local woman.
The women of Khori overcame one challenge after another for the good not only of the women but also of the whole village and the men came to recognize their contribution.
“When the women first came together to make positive changes in the village, we laughed at them,” said Laxman Bohora, 45. “They proved us wrong and showed us what the village needed was women’s leadership.
Applauding the women of Khori village, the Municipality of Chhabis Pathibhera granted a cash incentive of Rs 1,00,125 to the user committee group.
“The role of women in bringing about positive changes in social, economic, development and educational spheres is an example the rest of us should follow,” said Akkal Dhami, chairman of the municipality. “The cash incentive is to encourage women to continue on their way to the prosperity of the village. We hope that the rest of the villages in the municipality will also follow. ”