The Bagmara Report: The Women of Bagmara

For the past number of years, WELNepal (Women’s Education and Literacy in Nepal) has been offering literacy programs and lecture series for the women of Chitwan, a region in the Terai lowlands of Nepal. These programs have been implemented in a number of villages, and have resulted in a number of success stories across the area. In this region of Nepal, along with many other areas, after marriage, women are often placed in their husband’s home and village to look after his family. As a result, the women are often alienated from familiarity and their family, and immersed in a new community. They are often shy, and hesitant to communicate openly. One main factor due to these insecurities is that many of these women are illiterate. Aided by WELNepal, women in these areas now have an opportunity to come together in order to educate each other in a variety of life skills such as reading and writing.

The women of one village in particular, Bagmara, have shown great initiative in requesting literacy classes from WELNepal. Two levels have been offered- basic and advanced literacy. It quickly became obvious that learning to read and write immensely improved the women's confidence, as well as their thirst for more knowledge. In this part of the world where women are responsible for 85% (or more) of the daily work, it is remarkable that these women are still able to find time after a full day of work to attend literacy classes. One woman said that after learning to read and write, she felt more confident to communicate with others, introduce herself to people, write letters, and keep records in her home.

Another literacy resource that has been highly successful in Bagmara is a library. Located in the home of the “alpha female” of the community, Lilauti, the women of Bagmara are free to take books from this library whenever they want. Lilauti, as well as being the main motivator, the glue that holds the women of Bagmara together, she is also one of the literacy teachers. The books in the library range from principles of insurance and gender studies, to nutrition and self-doctoring books. Many of the women say that the library is highly valuable and that they use it on a regular basis.

After the success of the literacy programs, WELNepal ran two lecture series on ecology and farmer’s training; the majority of the work done in Chitwan is agriculture. During these lecture series, the women were taught how to make compost, and thus, how to grow organic crops using compost as a fertilizer. In addition, the women were each given a small plot of land, and were taught how to make a nursery for growing their vegetables. Months later, many of the women are putting into practice what they learned during these lecture series. They now know that chemical fertilizers can be bad for health. Many of them are using the nurseries to grow their vegetables, and they have found that using fertilizer they have made themselves is cheaper. They are so happy with their results, they are already asking for more farmers training and more lecture series.

As of now, WELNepal is planning more programs for the women of Chitwan. In Bagmara, there is currently a remedial literacy class being offered for women who have completed both basic and advanced literacy classes. The women meet once per week, taking turns reading passages from books, discussing the content, and writing about the subject. In Bagmara alone, an astonishing 48 women have signed up to study in this class, further exemplifying the strength and success of this particular village.

The women of Chitwan are remarkable people, who work exceedingly hard to support their families. With the programs being offered by WELNepal, the women are now encouraged to come together and organize, resulting in a community of women who are taking strong initiatives in educating themselves. After witnessing the success of villages such as Bagmara, it is apparent that literacy and education are vital to these women’s confidence and empowerment. WELNepal continues to work towards educating the women of Nepal, attempting to improve the cycle of unequal gender divisions by empowering women to become proactive in changing their lives through self-education.

— Rebecca Zolkower