What is a good woman?

I meet her at her office in Ekantakuna, where Saneharika Samula runs its recourse center. Bandana Rana is the president of Women Communicators Group and the vice president of SAATHI, an organization working against domestic violence. In between these jobs she reads news at Nepal Television, she is active in social work and the mother of two children. Most of her time, however, is spent on working for the women of Nepal.

In the hallway there are posters displaying womens possibilities to work for peace and how women refugees suffer a lot. The recourse center is really a library room where more than 100 women journalist members can come to read, share their experiences and discuss. I curiously glance at the secretary who is busy looking at the webpage of Unifem, just above her head the wallpaper is decorated with an article on womens poor representation in the media as well as a poem called “How to recognize a good woman”. I read that a good woman is a proud woman who knows what she wants, is not afraid to express her own needs and does not need to find recognition in others. The door opens. Rana looks relaxed behind her great desk, excuses herself for being late and orders hot water to help her soar throat.

  • How did it happen that you started working on womens issues? I ask, knowing that this woman could have lived an easier life minding her own business.
  • I have been very fortunate. First of all I was born in the city, I had good education and a liberal family. But even in my family I experienced discrimination. My brothers were sent to India to have their education and could do whatever they wanted. When I started my work in the eighties, I got the opportunity to go to several rural areas in Nepal and I saw the plight of women. They could not speak in front of men, they had to carry the wood for fuel, prepare the food, care for the children and serve the men, they had to plough the fields and carry heavy buckets of water from distant places. The women I met had a very heavy burden of work, some of them working up till 18 hours per day. Men would work less hours, and some of them were gambling and playing. I realized how lucky and fortunate I was and I thought to myself: If we do not work for these women – who will?

  • In your opinion, what is the most important issue for women in Nepal today?
  • The most important issue is self identity. Most Nepalese women do not have their own identity. Their identity is always linked to the relation to men, first as a daughter, second as a wife and then as a mother. Few women are economically independent and because of that they have no self confidence – they feel insecure. Nepalese society is a patriarchal society, the power lies in hand of the male. In this culture women experience a lot of violence and because they are insecure, they feel they have to bear the violence – they blame themselves for the violence they experience.

Nine years ago the other organization Rana is working for, SAATHI, established a shelter for abused women. Later they have also started a shelter and a drop-in-center for street-children.  They are also responsible for doing a report on women and violence in Nepal, showing that 77 per cent of the women have experienced some kind of violence in their home.

  • How can this situation be changed? The answer to this rather complicated question comes surprisingly rapid.
  • Through awareness raising, education, capacity building and societal change for improving the identity of women and bringing them to the mainstream of development. If you look at the state, there is almost 50 per cent women, but in the political structure of the state there are hardly any, in the civil service there are hardly any, in decision making and policy making bodies you do not see women. And because of this the policies made are also not suitable for women. Only today we have as much as 108 legislations that are discriminatory to women.

  • But where to start?
  • We have to start in the home itself. If you are a daughter, there is no rejoice in the home when you are born. The daughter does not belong there, she will go to her husbands home anyway, and even there she does not really belong, because her identity is linked with her husband only. Society and attitudes should change so that society look upon girls as equal to boys. There should be no difference between sons and daughters. The women who experience violence in their homes should be able to go to court and find justice.
  • Do you have a dream?
  • Yes, I have a dream. I have a dream to feel free of all inabitions in life, free to think for myself, free to implement what I want to implement, free to do what I want to do. It is not a dream for myself, but a dream I have for all Nepalese women.

Kathmandu, November 2004

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