Mayadevi, a hardworking woman from a rural village in Nepal, walks 5 km every day to fetch water for her family, carrying it in a weathered paint bucket. The rest of her day is spent cooking, cleaning, looking after the cattle, taking care of the children and elders in the family and if time permits, tending to the field. Her husband like many others in the village is in Dubai as a migrant laborer. The family is chiefly dependent on his income for survival. The other source of income for them was agriculture but with the erratic rainfall patterns and lesser helping hands in the fields, the agricultural produce is just sufficient for subsistence. As a result of this, Mayadevi constantly worries about her children’s education and the piling medical bills of her aging in-laws.

Remittances are critical to Nepal’s economy, but they also highlight our limited ability to enable our manpower to build our nation. Unfortunately, the number of people migrating for better economic opportunities is still on the rise. According to a report by The Nepali Times, there are said to be at least 3 million Nepalis working just in India, and the figure for labor permits shows at least 2 million in the Gulf, Malaysia, Korea, and Japan. With increased dependence on migrant income in rural areas, poverty rates are soaring. This accompanied by the rise in climate catastrophes in the region is pushing the locals further into poverty. We need to find solutions to address these growing poverty issues and the severe consequences of climate change in the area.

Hence, we need solutions that can protect the ecosystem while ensuring resilience towards climate change related disasters. And these solutions would not be sustainable unless we involve the most important actors in the ecosystem, women.

Women: Part of the solution

Women, particularly those in the far and mid-western regions of Nepal, are the most vulnerable to the consequences of migration and climate change, according to a World Food Program report. Women’s employment status, health, life expectancy, and education are the lowest in these areas. Instead, if we can effectively engage women in initiatives that leverage resources sustainably while helping them balance their family responsibilities, we might be able to improve their financial situation sustainably.

There are numerous ideas worth exploring, such as collecting and harvesting spices and medicinal herbs, creating handicrafts, vegetable and fruit farming, spice farming, and creating pickle and spice blends, among others. The possibilities for effective business ideas in the region are immense. We need to understand the context and engage with women to co-create these opportunities. Environmental sustainability must be a key element of these plans. For instance, if we are looking at spice and vegetable farming, we can focus on organic farming, as the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides poses a significant threat to the ecosystem. If we can build the capacity of women while ensuring they have access to resources and markets, it will be extremely beneficial. Other initiatives, such as planting trees of ecological and economic value in vulnerable areas like sopanuts and chiuri, will also prove effective.

Women are natural community builders, making them the perfect choice for such initiatives. They are more prone to ask for help, co-create and support each other than men. According to research done by Peter Kuhn and Marie-Claire Villeval, women are more likely to work in cooperation. Their greater attraction to cooperative incentives results in part from their more optimistic assessments of their prospective teammate’s ability. They are also more likely to save the money they earn from these initiatives and use it for the well-being of their families. Additionally, they are resourceful, making the best use of what they have at their disposal.

Challenges on the way

Despite the many benefits of women’s economic empowerment, there are still several challenges that must be overcome. These challenges can hinder the progress of women who want to achieve financial independence and contribute to their communities.

Initial Hesitation:

One of the biggest challenges is the initial hesitation that some women may have to take on a leadership role. It takes time and effort to convince women to take the lead in launching initiatives. During my first meeting regarding our tree plantation project in Surkhet, the room had 13 women and 2 men, but throughout the 2-2.5 hours of discussion, I could only listen to the men. The women constantly looked up to them for validation of what I was saying about the project and its objectives. However, once women feel safe and understand the value of these initiatives, they put their best foot forward.

Lack of access to Information:

Another major challenge is the limited access to information that women in rural areas face. Information is mostly centralized among men in the villages, including information on the spice and medicinal herb trade, which is the most common source of income in rural areas. This lack of information puts women at a disadvantage, as they may end up receiving much less than the market price for their products. For example, during one of our meetings with farmers, I personally witnessed some women receiving as low as 7 rupees for a kg of soapnut, which can easily fetch around 40 rupees in the market.

Social Stigmas:

The social stigma around women who want to become financially independent is one of the toughest barriers to break when it comes to empowering women. Women face an extra round of social pressure if they decide to take control of their finances and become financially independent. The norms of society expect women to just be caregivers and domestic managers, making it harder for them to break out of those roles.

Poor Digital Access and Technical Knowledge:

Women in rural areas are also at a disadvantage when it comes to digital access and technical knowledge. They often fall to the bottom of the priority list when it comes to buying technical resources like mobile phones. Even if they have access to them, lack of education makes it much more difficult for them to operate these devices. While platforms like Tiktok and Facebook have helped bridge the gap, access to data is still a challenge in many remote parts of Nepal. According to the Connectivity in the Least Developed Countries Status Report, 2021, 91% of the male population and 79% of the female population in Nepal own a mobile phone. However, most of these women are centered in urban regions, highlighting the digital divide between men and women.

Poor Financial Knowledge and Access:

Access to financial resources is another significant challenge faced by women in Nepal. According to 2021 data from Nepal Rashtra Bank, women hold only 687 accounts per 1,000 population, which is less than half the 1,314 accounts per 1,000 population held by men. Women increasingly rely on informal lending to meet everyday needs, with around 42% of women borrowing from informal lenders. These lenders can be predatory and exploit the poor financial knowledge of women. Additionally, the limited availability of banks in rural Nepal makes it challenging for women to access financial resources. Moreover, women have less access to knowledge regarding various government schemes and policies that could support their economic empowerment.

Empowering women is key to addressing the challenges of migration, climate change, and poverty in rural Nepal. Women can play a critical role in building sustainable businesses and preserving the ecosystem, while also improving their own financial situation and that of their families. Time and again they have proven it. Investing in women makes a change through generations and if we as a nation are able to create a handful of such examples, we might be able to create a community that continues to grow and support each other while building a nation, together.

References and other materials to explore:

  1. Status of Financial Inclusion in Nepal – Nepal Economic Forum
  2. In focus: Women and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) | UN Women – Headquarters
  3. Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men? | NBER
  4. Climate change: How it impacts women more – The Himalayan Times – Nepal’s No.1 English Daily Newspaper | Nepal News, Latest Politics, Business, World, Sports, Entertainment, Travel, Life Style News
  5. Understanding Why Climate Change Impacts Women More Than Men (
  6. Gender Equality and Climate Change – World | ReliefWeb

Written by Ms. Poonam Shukla, Co-founder, Sattva Nepal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *