A journey from housewife to an elected member of local Government

Rekha Chaudhary with her certificate of elected women ward member

Kailali, 27 December, 2018- I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to exercise my rights and make a difference” says, Ms Rekha Chaudhary. Chaudhary, 28, is a well-known social activist in her community and neighbourhood. She was elected as a ward member in the local elections of 2017.

Chaudhary is from Bhajani municipality-Thapapur of Kailali district. She lives with her in-laws, husband and son. Her family used to be Kamaiyas before they were freed 18 years ago. Kamaiya system was the agrarian bonded labour system in the Tarai districts (Banke, Bardiya, Dang, Kailali and Kanchanpur) of mid- and far-western Nepal. It developed from a customary practice of obtaining a "helping hand for family business" that was gradually replaced by a “patron-client” relationship as state-led land grants were intensified. The government of Nepal officially ended Kamaiya system in 2000 A.D.

Chaudhary is one of the 21 participants of the Transformative Education Program (TEP) organised in 2014. TEP is developed as one of the platform where women and men belonging to poor and marginalized family identify their problems, analyse, develop plans and implement different issue based interventions. “It was one of the forum where I gained confidence to deal with social problems”, says Chaudhary. After completing nine months TEP classes she participated in a training on leadership and good governance organized by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) under Nepal Development Program (NDP), her life took a different turn. Digo Bikas Samaj (DBS) Bhajani, the implementing partner of LWF Nepal, played a vital role to organize and mobilize the poor and oppressed groups at grassroots level through group formation and enhancing their knowledge and skills on systematically claim their rights and entitlements. The training programme developed her self-confidence and she began advocating on human rights and played leadership role in her community. She started leading her group, community based organization applying the skills obtained from TEP classes and leadership development training. She was later elected as a ward member.

Chaudhary was not very interested in the social activities before but now, the scenario is different. She currently holds representation in various social structures, including the member of ward level local elected body, Secretary of Gulab Women Agriculture Group, member of Integrated Planning Formulation Committee (IPFC) and a member of a community based organization (CBO) named Pragatisil Ekata Samaj, Thapapur. Additionally, she is also a founder Secretary of Diya Aur Bati Saving and Credit Cooperative (a women led cooperatives having more than 400 members) and member of the Community Based Disaster Risk Management Committee (CBDRMC) at Bahadurpur tole of Thapapur.

She added, "I have been raising voice for the wellbeing of women suffering from domestic violence and gender based violence. I provide them with legal suggestions and help them for justice.  I also focus on women’s livelihood promotion and their rights in the local bodies". Chaudhary shared that she has succeeded to allocate 33 percent of ward level budget for socio-economic empowerment activities for women from the ward council.

As her village is prone to disaster mainly flood, she always encourages women to take lead for preparing disaster risk and management plan. Similarly, she is actively performing the activities of Diya aur Bati Saving and Credit cooperative in the community level for live saving activities of flood affected people. She motivates poor women from oppressed communities to involve in the cooperatives so that they will have easy access to financial resources for income generating and productive works.

During the planning process of the local government, Chaudhary advocated to allocate budget for women empowerment and leadership development. She further said, “Women have very low representation in the local government because of which men are dominating the fund allocation. Therefore, I am always keen to develop women’s leadership capacity so that they will be elected in the upcoming local government election which will help for allocating gender focused programs and budgets.” She has been successful to allocate NPR 200,000 for awareness campaigns against domestic violence, NPR 300,000 for women economic empowerment and promotion of commercial businesses and NPR 700,000 for single women to engage in small scale livestock enterprises from ward no. 8 office of Bhajani Municipality.

She has also maintained a healthy relationship in her family, while Chaudhary performs her duties in the community, her husband takes care of their four years old son as well as the household chores. She has been putting efforts to convince men to support women in the community. 

Chaudhary said, “I am grateful to The Lutheran World Federation, Digo Bikash Samaj and all my well-wishers for contributing in my social and economic empowerment. Various interventions from Digo Bikash Samaj contributed a lot in my life and prepared me to contribute to the society and community”.

She tries to convince other women not to limit themselves in the household activities but also engage in social and political activities for the empowerment of the women. She feels that she is lucky to have access to enjoy with democratic exercises in the local government. Chaudhary aims to continue to lead the social, political and economic activities in her community. 

Dr Prabin Manandhar, Country Director LWF Nepal says, “At LWF we work towards improving the lives of the marginalised communities. We provide them with a platform where they can enhance their capabilities and stand strong in the community”.

Text by: Kritagya Regmi and Man Dhoj Khatri