Outreach, Knowledge, Change – Nepal
Advancing gender equality through information, education, access to services and access to justice for women and girls in Dhading, Nepal.
Aura Freedom’s Female Friendly Spaces project in response to the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal saw tremendous success. While the state of emergency declared after the earthquakes ended in 2016, things were hardly back to “normal” and there continued to be exacerbation of existing patriarchal issues.
These deeply rooted ideals that view women and girls as lesser beings have resulted in ongoing violence and oppression, making them exceptionally vulnerable to such crimes as child marriage, rape, and human trafficking. This also significantly increases rates of unwanted and early pregnancies, STIs, and reproductive health complications. Despite the time that has passed, we were still dealing with families who had lost everything to the earthquake and continue to experience shortages of food and water, in addition to lacking adequate shelter, all of which increases the vulnerability of girls and women to human trafficking, child marriage and exploitation.
After having previously witnessed such life-altering change on a daily basis, we knew our work had to continue. As a result, we launched a powerful Outreach program targeting gender-based violence (GBV), gender disparity, and lack of access to services for women and girls, expanding our reach into new communities where GBV is rampant, and access to services and education are much needed.
Entitled Outreach, Knowledge, Change, the project provided education, access to services, and life skills in a safe space where vulnerable women and girls could go to report incidences of violence, seek services, attend educational workshops, obtain identification documents through vital registration, learn skills, and feel supported. It also served as a roving referral agency that refers women and girls of all ages to health, legal, and other services available to them through our collaboration with local NGOs, Police, and other government agencies. Our core project staff were all specifically trained on gender equity and equality, gender-based violence, trauma informed / survivor-centered approaches, group counselling, and were all well-known within the communities.
Aura Freedom is a firm believer in the power of knowledge and education. As such, this project aimed to address the issues of GBV, gender disparity, and social discrimination through a variety of daily awareness sessions and related activities. These included:
- Human and legal rights awareness
- GBV, rape, and violence against women awareness
- Harmful cultural practices, social discrimination, and gender equality awareness
- Health, hygiene, and family planning awareness (including reproductive and menstrual health)
- Adolescent mentorship program using socially and physically interactive activities
- Confidence building
- Training of GBV Watch Groups, which act as advocates for keeping their communities safe
The program’s daily activities focused on girls and women as we aimed to foster an environment of sisterhood and community among women experiencing similar injustices. However, Aura Freedom recognizes the importance of including boys and men in the conversation on gender equality. Therefore, community-wide awareness sessions were also held once a month to expose men and boys to this crucial information, increasing their awareness of women’s rights, GBV and the gender disparity in their own communities. Despite the existing patriarchy, our Female Friendly Space data showed a significant increase in knowledge of gender-based violence and human rights, awareness of gender disparity, and a positive shift in attitudes towards gender equality in both women and men. These results clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of including men and boys among project participants to create positive social change.
In providing ongoing education and information dissemination in a safe space, girls and women will experience an increased awareness of their rights and the services available to them. With this knowledge, they become empowered, more likely to report incidences of violence and reclaim ownership of their lives. Furthermore, when entire communities learn of not only the prevalence of gender disparity, but its associated repercussions for both females and the communities at large, the cycle of violence and gender inequality can be broken. Education is absolutely critical for achieving this.
Aura Freedom is grateful to have had the support of Global Affairs Canada in our fight against gender-based violence and gender inequality in support of the world’s most vulnerable girls and women.