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Celebrating women behind the Rural Access Programme in Nepal

On 8 March 2017, IMC celebrated International Women’s Day with a photo exhibition in our Nepal office in Kathmandu, to highlight the role women play within the UKaid-funded Rural Access Programme.

Thursday 23 March 2017, Subhashini Chandran, Ruth McPake, Lorenza Geronimo

Poor road infrastructure locks around 80% of Nepal’s 27-million people in subsistence agriculture, especially women, and makes transport challenging, which shoots up prices of basic commodities.

The Rural Access Programme (RAP), which IMC has implemented with the UK and Nepal governments since 1999, builds climate-resilient roads to connect Nepal’s poor rural communities to services such as markets, healthcare and education.

Women and RAP highlights the 18-year programme by focusing on women who have made it possible and whose lives the programme has aimed to improve.

The exhibition was opened by the UK Ambassador to Nepal, His Excellency Mr. Richard Morris, alongside RAP staff members Usha Poudel, the most recent female recruit, and Maiya Maharjan, the longest serving female member of the team. 

Over 250 guests attended, including representatives of Government of Nepal, DFID Nepal, and RAP partners Prabhu Bank, Unilever Nepal, Organic Mountain Flavor, Idea Studio Nepal, and Antenna Foundation along with students from local schools and colleges.

RAP staff standing in front of the technical management offices in Kathmandu, February 2017. Credit: Asin Sharma, RAP 3 staff.
RAP staff standing in front of the technical management offices in Kathmandu, February 2017. Credit: Asin Sharma, RAP 3 staff.

So far, RAP has built 1,000km and maintained 2,000km of roads, generating employment for individuals from the poorest households. 

Many of them are earning a wage for the first time. In the selection process, RAP prioritises marginalised and disadvantaged groups, and requires that the workforce be at least 33% female.

Women preparing foundations for rural roads . Credit: RAP 3 staff.
Women preparing foundations for rural roads. Credit: RAP 3 staff.

Women are also involved in planning and implementation. This way, RAP helps to reduce disparities, and increases their capability to realise their rights and influence decision-making in households, communities and villages.

In 2016, RAP took on a new component, CONNECT, which is boosting the economy in the Mid and Far West of Nepal, building economic partnerships between diverse groups such as banks, multinationals, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and farmers.

Seed farmer and CONNECT Yuva Vayu, Krishna Buda, Achham, February 2017. Credit: Sabrina Dangol and Rashik Maharja.
Seed farmer and CONNECT Yuva Vayu, Krishna Buda, in Achham, far-western Nepal, February 2017. Credit: Sabrina Dangol and Rashik Maharja.

CONNECT also aims to improve subsistence farmers’ livelihoods, most of whom are women, by helping them to access credit cheaply and shift to commercial agriculture.

In less than one year, over 2,000 farmers have entered long-term agreements with CONNECT’s nine business partners.

CONNECT has appointed 282 young and ambitious women for the leadership role of Yuva Vayus (in Nepali, ‘Youth Wind’).

The Yuva Vayus are in-community volunteers that mobilise and shepherd the commercial farmer groups they belong to. This solution aims to strengthen the enabling environment for business by encouraging rural women’s participation.

Rural sale agent Khagishara Thapa in her roadside shop, in Chupra, in the mid-western Dailekh district, February 2017. Credit: Sabrina Dangol and Rashik Maharja.

One hundred women, the Hamri Didis (in Nepali, ‘our sisters’), have been selected by CONNECT and trained and appointed by Unilever Nepal as direct-to-door sales agents.

Rural communities now have access to reliable high-quality health and sanitation products and income-generating opportunities. Meanwhile, Unilever and Prabhu Bank have extended their reach to remote areas.

‘Economically empowered women are vital for development. It is my pleasure to know that Unilever and Prabhu Bank Ltd are jointly working on empowering more Nepalese women through RAP 3 CONNECT.’

Dr. Chiranjibi Nepal, Governor, Central Bank of Nepal.

The Hamri Didi alliance will set up 600 women in business and create 8 full-time jobs for supervisors in 2017.

Sabina Rawal talking about her role as a Hamri Didi with seed producer Yuva Vayus and showcasing Unilever products she sells in Malika, Dailekh, February 2017. Credit: Ruth McPake, RAP 3 staff.
Sabina Rawal talking about her role as a Hamri Didi with seed producer Yuva Vayus and showcasing Unilever products she sells in Malika, Dailekh district, February 2017. Credit: Ruth McPake, RAP 3 staff.

CONNECT is also linking hundreds of farmers through long-term agreements to a ginger processor and a Nepalese bank, Prabhu Bank Limited. We have helped them to open bank accounts and obtain loans.

CONNECT also helps farmers to get organic certification for the ginger they grow, which makes it suitable for export.

Mr Joshi, Dhanghadi Branch Manager, Prabhu Bank Limited (PBL), handing over a cheque book to Mina Kumari Namjali, one of 30 ginger farmers who have obtained loans  from PBL, thanks to CONNECT facilitation, Doti, 3rd March 2017. Credit: Mr Narayan Kumar Thapa, RAP 3 staff.
Mr Joshi, Dhanghadi Branch Manager, Prabhu Bank Limited (PBL), handing over a cheque book to Mina Kumari Namjali, one of 30 ginger farmers who have obtained loans  from PBL, thanks to CONNECT facilitation, Doti, 3 March 2017. Credit: Mr Narayan Kumar Thapa, RAP 3 staff.

To bridge Nepal’s skills gap, RAP runs a graduate programme, which provides long-term professional development to young engineers who have successfully completed an internship.

Since the graduate programme’s launch in 2014, 11 women have been recruited. Currently there are six female graduate engineers on RAP.

Ayasta Pokharel, one of the female engineers within the RAP graduate programme. Credit: Nabina Mahar, RAP 3 staff.
Ayasta Pokharel, one of the female engineers within the RAP graduate programme. Credit: Nabina Mahar, RAP 3 staff.

‘When I was young I was taught that everyone in this world is created equal; despite the disparity in today’s society, I continue to believe this in RAP.’

Ayasta Pokharel, RAP graduate engineer.

Nabina Mahar, one fo the RAP graduate engineers. Credit: RAP 3 staff.
Nabina Mahar, one of RAP graduate engineers. Credit: RAP 3 staff.

‘Working with RAP3 has enhanced my confidence to smile, and I believe I am one of the few fortunate girls who come from an area as rural as mine.’

Nabina Mahar, RAP graduate engineer.

The Women and RAP exhibition provided the unique opportunity to take stock of the achievements made towards empowering rural women in Nepal thanks to the Rural Access Programme.

If we are to realise the global goal of gender equality by 2030, women must be given equal opportunities to men. When this happens, they become powerful drivers of social change and economic growth.

Cover photo: Dairy farmer in Dailekh delivering milk to CONNECT micro, small and medium enterprise partner Belpata Dairy Cooperative. Credit: Sabrina Dangol and Rashik Maharja.

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