It’s Time for Her Turn

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small_IMG_4695 (1)In Nepal, a country where girls’ voices are often not heard or valued, young women are speaking up to stop the practices of human trafficking, child marriage, abuse and gender-based discrimination. Her Turn is at the helm of this transformation.

Her Turn is non-profit that provides education and empowerment workshops to girls aged 12-16 in rural Nepal. By making girls aware of their rights and providing them with the resources and confidence to advocate for themselves, Her Turn is combating local perceptions of women and allowing Nepalese girls to create their own safe and healthy futures.

The group currently works in the Sindhupalchok and Gorkha districts, regions chosen because they lag behind the rest of Nepal in terms of education and wealth. The month-long workshops reach girls at a critical age: by grade eight, there’s a 33 percent chance that a girl has dropped out of school and a 14 percent chance that she’s married. If women are educated, it is more likely that they will receive better wages, have healthier and more educated families and avoid domestic violence.[1]

 

Building Friendships

The programs are led by local female trainers, many of whom are from low-caste backgrounds and speak indigenous languages. They are chosen to correspond with the backgrounds of the girls participating in each workshops. Her Turn provides snacks to participants and trainers at a shared lunchtime, creating an informal space to build friendships and break down caste tensions and discrimination.[2]

While fun and interactive, the workshops do not shy away from controversial or challenging topics. Health, including sanitation, puberty, menstrual hygiene and nutrition, is the focus of week one, and week two turns to safety, including child marriage, human trafficking, sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence. Team building is developed in the third week, with the aim of increasing confidence, advocacy and leadership skills, and applied in the final week, with the planning and implementation of a community project. [3]

In addition, Girls Support Committees and mentorship programs ensure Her Turn’s impact is sustainable and long-lasting. The committees, formed by an elected group of girls, serve as resource for the communities after the workshops have been completed. And, when information isn’t enough, the committees collaborate with schools, non-profits and local government to advocate on behalf of girls and stage interventions. The committees have a strong influence in the communities and they have intervened in several serious cases. Their role is to alert the mentor – recruited from the most successful trainers – who then takes action. These girls are strong and determined: “Imagine how hard it is to stand against a family conflict where a child suffers, when many people in the community think it’s normal and acceptable.”[4]

 

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Unfortunately, there is a great need for these programs in Nepal. While 20 is Nepal’s legal age for marriage, enforcement and awareness are limited. On average, 29 percent of girls are married before the age of 18, but this varies by region.[5] In the Rupandehi district, 89.5% of girls are married before they turn 18.  When a girl marries as a child, she rarely continues her schooling as the expectation is that her focus will be on maintaining the household and immediately bearing a child, preferably a son. [6]

Trafficking is an additional risk facing young Nepalese women; 15, 000 girls are trafficked annually, and in the districts in which Her Turn operates, more girls are trafficked into Indian brothels than anywhere else in Nepal.[7] On a day to day level, 30 percent of girls in Nepal to miss school because of menstruation, while 95 percent face restrictions in their lives, whether from cultural stigma or a lack of knowledge or necessities, such as toilets at school or menstrual materials. [8]

The challenges facing these girls were exacerbated this year. On April 25 and May 12, when two major earthquakes struck Nepal and took the lives of 9,000 individuals, leaving 2.8 million in need of assistance, Her Turn’s work was disrupted as schools closed and the focus turned to basic necessities. Sindhupalchok and Gorkha districts, where Her Turn works, were the most affected by the earthquakes, and Her Turn has worked in this context to support the needs of women and girls, which are often overlooked in emergency situations. They developed Her Kits, menstrual hygiene kits that provide the essentials for only 5 USD.

 

Stronger Voices

 

Her TurnAs of summer 2015, Her Turn has worked with 1,791 girls from 24 schools. “For the first time early marriages have diminished, and sexual and gender based violence has been outed, named, and is being reported.”[9] “Nepali families used to favor sons,” says Her Turn program manager, Ola Perczynska. “Nowadays they start appreciating daughters, too.”[10] Girls have spoken out that they are no longer too shy to speak to community members, and teachers have shared the increased confidence and stronger voices of their female students. Said one principal, “In my 24 years, bullying, sexual harassment and menstruation were never talked about formally with the students.” He admitted to knowledge gaps in these subjects, and he regrets not having done more to create a safe environment for young girls going through puberty.[11]

While their work has faced some resistance, the organization itself hasn’t had any major problems with the communities. It is a complex, delicate and slow process to challenge and change patriarchal social norms. Her Turn works to be culturally sensitive and to explain the importance of equal access to education. Says Perczynska, problems have been “more a backlash against bringing to light and reporting cases of SGBV [sexual and gender-based violence] – a problem prevalent in the whole world.” For instance, when a Girl Support Committee alerted their mentor to a planned child marriage, there was tension as teachers, local government and community members became involved. Fortunately, almost everyone agreed the marriage should be stopped.[12]

Over the next five years, Her Turn aims to develop their programs, from working more closely with whole communities, including mothers’ groups, to helping staff to be more supportive of girls. A boys’ program has been delayed by the earthquakes, but Her Turn recognizes that “to truly impact the gender dynamic, boys must be agents of change too.”[13] The organization hopes to expand to other districts, such as in the South, where rates of child marriage are higher, and in the far Western Region, where a practice called chaupadi forces menstruating women and girls to sleep outside of their homes.

By creating educated, empowered and equal girls, Her Turn is facilitating lasting changes within Nepal and enabling girls to have a say in the direction their lives will take. To learn more about Her Turn, visit their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Notes:

[1] http://her-turn.org

[2] http://girlsglobe.org/2013/10/07/educated-empowered-and-equal-her-turn-program-nepal/

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/oct/30/costly-periods-economic-impact-of-menstrual-shame

[4] Correspondence with Ola Perczynska on Aug.8, 2015

[5] http://www.her-turn.org/Her_Turn_2014_Annual_Report.pdf

[6] http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage-in-nepal-what-about-girls/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jess-tomlin/women-nepal-earthquake_b_7423376.html

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/oct/30/costly-periods-economic-impact-of-menstrual-shame

[9] http://s2services.com/paxworks.org/2015/03/update-from-her-turn-empowerment-programs-in-nepal-spring-2015/

[10] Correspondence with Ola Perczynska on Aug.8, 2015

[11] http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/oct/30/costly-periods-economic-impact-of-menstrual-shame

[12] Correspondence with Ola Perczynska on Aug.8, 2015

[13] http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/oct/30/costly-periods-economic-impact-of-menstrual-shame

 

 

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Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott is a writer, teacher and human rights advocate from Peterborough, Canada.

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