The Leadership Gap: one of the most enduring forms of inequality in the 21st century.

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Written by Claire Charamnac, co-founder of Women LEAD.

The lack of female leaders is one of the most enduring forms of inequality in the 21st century: fewer than 20% of all decision-making national positions are held by women (World Economic Forum).  Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, said in an interview that “the biggest challenges [for women] everywhere are political participation and economic empowerment — and ending violence against women.” Entrenched problems such as gender discrimination can only be overcome by investing in a new generation of female leaders working alongside men to create sustainable change.

Across the world, and in Nepal, adolescent girls are an under-served population (UNICEF). While “education for women is the most profound intervention in development” (Dr Osotimehin, UNFPA), it needs to be paired with economic and political empowerment. Less than 2¢ of every development dollar goes to girls and 9 of 10 youth programs are aimed at boys (TIME). It’s time for donors, big and small, to recognize that investing in the leadership of young women should be one of the international community’s biggest priorities in development.  Many programs focus on primary and secondary education for girls, but very few (around 30 around the world, in our count) focus specifically on empowering adolescent girls to be leaders. We know that we are the only organization in Nepal to do so.

Nepal recently established a 33% quota for women in Parliament, a promising new opportunity for women in the wake of a decade-long civil war. The only hope for overcoming the myriad of national challenges in Nepal is for passionate, competent women to take the lead and initiate change alongside men.  However, schools and civil society are failing to equip women with the tools needed to access and leverage these positions. Quotas are not enough to encourage young women’s political empowerment. We believe we must intervene early on in a young woman’s life to empower them to become leaders and effect sustainable change at all levels, from schools and communities to national policies. Until women influence decisions at every level, Nepal’s development will not be inclusive and gender-sensitive.

Young women in Nepal face overwhelming challenges: 1/3 of girls aged 15 to 19 are married and 60% of women are illiterate (UNICEF Nepal). Young women have the passion and creativity to solve these problems, but simply lack the necessary resources. Nepali society does not recognize either youth or women as leaders, nor prioritize their needs despite youth constituting a quarter of the population (Alternatives Nepal). Young women are thus doubly disadvantaged. While the parliament quota is undeniable progress, it is not representative of the reality many women face in fields such as business, law and medicine, where they continue to be systematically excluded from influential positions. Facing restricted mobility, prescriptive gender-roles and a scarcity of male allies, few women are able to realize their full potential.

We believe the best way to break the cycle of discrimination against young women is to equip them with the skills, opportunities and resources to become leaders. We target high school girls in Kathmandu who come from diverse backgrounds but share a passion for building Nepal. The young women in our programs gain skills and resources, unavailable in their schools, that will enable them to access and leverage leadership positions. This new generation of qualified female leaders will work with men to transform Nepal’s unjust structures, building a culture of gender sensitivity in their schools, communities and nation.

Listening to our confident young women leaders speak at our Leadership Institute closing ceremony this past summer was one of our proudest moments. The ceremony celebrated so many aspects of the Nepal we are working towards: women and girls speaking up, families and schools supporting and applauding girls’ accomplishments, and institutions prioritizing the professional development of women. We were thrilled to see them not only identify as leaders for the first time, but also be taken seriously by their peers, parents and communities.

We’re committed to providing resources for young women across the world to pursue their vision for change. To be clear, we’re not working FOR these girls; we’re working WITH them. As partners, we respect what they’ve already done to create change. We’re not transforming their lives – we’re supporting them as they change their own lives and their nation.

We need to invest more in young women, especially in their leadership. Education is not enough. Young women are holding the solutions to problems plaguing their communities and nations – will we listen and support them?

Women LEAD: Sonu's Story on Street Harassment in Nepal

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The picture above is of a flash mob raising awareness on street harassment on January 12 with LEADers, School Leadership participants, and other girls from our partner-schools participating.

In honor of International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we asked our staff and participants to share stories about their experiences with street harassment in Kathmandu. Sonu, our Program Manager, shares her story today.

My home is near the Thamel area. I usually prefer using that way because it is a short cut and if I don’t walk from there it takes a lot of time to reach my home. Every day when I use that street I face a problem. Today, I would like to share one of the most troublesome moments in my life when I faced street harassment.

One day I was going home late because there was some urgent work I needed to finish that day. There was no public transportation around there because it was almost 8 pm so I was in hurry and afraid because there was no one besides me in the street. On the opposite side of the footpath, there was one young boy of about 20 years old standing in the street and watching me. Unexpectedly, that boy started masturbating in front of me. Oh my god! I then walked off quickly and didn’t look at him. After that incident, I stopped going that way in the evening.

Another incident occurred nearly 2 years ago, when I went to drop my aunt to her home. When I was going back home, I lost my way and suddenly the lights went off on that area because of the load shedding. I felt scared because it was almost dark and it was past 7 in the evening. I was walking round and round trying to find my way but I felt confused. Finally I decided to ask for directions and asked one of the older street venders and he showed me the way. At the same time, nearby, young people listened to our conversation and they started to follow me. Oh my God! My heart was pounding and I started to walk very fast. All together they were 3 young men and they were saying “Can I help”? ,”May I show you the direction?”.  This made me more scared. Suddenly I saw a place that I knew. I reached Kamalpokhari and nearby there was a police station so I scolded the guys, telling them that if they harassed me again, I would call the police. The guys went away. Finally, I had reached a way which I knew, with light and some people walking around. Then, I took a long breath and walked off slowly.

Women LEAD: Street Harassment in Nepal

The Flower House with Rajina

Rajina Shrestha joined Women LEAD in 2010 as a participant, became one of our first interns, and is now studying bio-technology at Bishop Cotton Women’s University in India. In honor of V-Day’s “One Billion Rising” movement fighting violence against women, Rajina writes about her experience with street harassment in Kathmandu, Nepal.

They taught me man is a social animal. That humans were always chained up with social responsibilities and rules in the society. What they failed to mention was that the rules, responsibilities and stigmas are higher for women.

If I don’t speak up and respond, I am considered as the silent weak link someone can use for amusement as I wouldn’t dare complain. If I am brave enough to speak up, I am categorized as being too smart and being told “she deserves it”.

Everyday, thousands of girls travel via public vehicles and in Nepal, that is probably the main place where eve teasing is at its worst. The conductors are either naive little children made fun of by the passengers or keep showing their so called masculinity by harassing the lady passengers. It is not an unusual thing for a conductor picking up lady passengers to call names and more when they get off. The other passengers don’t help either. A lot of the times, there are reports of male passengers misbehaving with the female passengers. They abuse them verbally as well as physically if the vehicle is loaded beyond capacity and there isn’t really anyone who notices or does anything about it.

And if you are a capable driver, the situation isn’t actually easier for you. Be it guys playing around with their speed and not letting you drive safely, or ones walking on the road throwing out vicious comments, it doesn’t change much here either.

As South Asians, we like to distinguish ourselves through our festivals. But what’s disgusting is, some of our own festivals encourage hooligans. Like for example, during Holi, a Hindu festival, also called the festival of colors, a girl would feel terrified walking on the streets by herself. She never knows when a plastic bag or balloon filled with water (a lot of times colored or dirty) is thrown at her from nowhere. And that is not even on the exact day of Holi. This starts a week before the actual festival. She cannot get angry and shout, as people are only going to throw out more vicious comments at her or more balloons and plastic. And she cannot walk away quietly, as it does nothing but encourage the other hooligans a few steps ahead to do the same. The general responses to these incidents are always insensitive, such as people saying, “Well, it’s Holi. You shouldn’t have come out of the house if you didn’t want to play.”

My brother, 3 years younger than me and with completely reckless friends, is allowed to come home late night. But with a daughter, the same trust and permission is never allowed. It’s not the parent’s fault, as the news everyday about high cases of rape and stories of street jerks never seem to lessen. And a lot of girls do not dare to go against it either. Because, of course, being called names and sometimes bumped into by drunk men is definitely not better than staying home with a curfew.

When I say all that, I obviously do not mean to say all the men on the road are devils on earth. There are people out there who I know would never do these kind of things but a lot of them wouldn’t raise a voice against it either.

And as a girl, representing thousands of other voices, I want to raise one question to all the jerks out there. Is it fun? Throwing balloons on random girls in the road? Calling them embarrassing names? Making the girls feel like it was their fault to have been walking on the road? Does it feel nice doing all the cheap acts? Not knowing your deeds are only encouraging the same incidents for your own sisters and friends and daughters?

Introducing Women LEAD Nepal

We at Girls’ Globe believe in the power of partnership and collaboration to efficiently and effectively work towards the empowerment of women. Raising awareness and spreading information is the first step. That’s why we’ve decided to feature organizations that are making a difference for women and girls and give them the possibility to share their stories, experiences and needs to a wider audience. By partnering up we can learn from each other and better understand the challenges that women and girls face around the world.

It’s time for action! And we hope that the organizations that will be writing through Girls’ Globe will inspire you to take part in the action.

Women LEAD is the first of our Featured Organizations.

Women LEAD is the first and only leadership development organization for young women, led by young women, in Nepal. Since 2011, they’ve provided more than 400 young women with the skills, support and opportunities to become leaders in their schools and communities. Our programs provide young women with intensive yearlong leadership, advocacy and social entrepreneurship training, mentoring, and a peer-support network.
Check out the video introducing these young women leaders in Nepal!
Follow Women LEAD on Twitter and Facebook.