Nepali Times
Life Times
Nine lives

Over the past 10 years, Celebrating Womanhood Navadevi Awards has honored 109 ordinary Nepali women who have fought gender stereotypes and earned the respect of local communities for their selfless work.

Shrijana Singh Yonjan established the award ceremony in 2002 because she felt there were many Nepali women who have overcome personal and social obstacles to help their communities who needed to be recognised. "Usually a handful of women 'achievers' from Kathmandu who are part of the human rights and development circle are awarded. However, common Nepali women from rural areas who have excelled, despite the lack of support are completely overlooked. We wanted to change this trend. This award has helped establish such women as role models and we hope young Nepalis take inspiration from their success stories," she told Nepali Times.

Among this year's awardees were a midwife from Solu, a radio pioneer from Myagdi, a professional swimmer, an AIDS activist from Kaski, and a woman from Dhanusha who helped lift her family out of poverty. From left to right in picture above are:

1 Karishma Karki, Kathmandu
A professional swimmer, Karishma has won 50 gold medals and numerous other awards since she started professional swimming. The 20-year-old represented Nepal in the National Games in 2004 and 2009 and participated in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. She has displayed maturity, physical and emotional strength in competitions in Nepal and abroad.

2 Yam Kumari KC, Myagdi
Although Yam Kumari was born into a deprived family in Myagdi district, she worked hard in school and after graduating was active in the struggle for gender equality. Recognising the importance of awareness, she went onto establish Radio Myagdi FM which broadcasts programs on women's rights and public health issues. With drug abuse becoming a problem, Yam Kumari set up the Community Development Forum which has helped decrease the rate of drug use in her village.

3 Laxmi Adhikari, Kaski
Founder of Ankura Single and Infected Women's Group, Laxmi has been working relentlessly to improve the lives of women with HIV and help them become self-sufficient. After her husband died of AIDS, Laxmi who is also HIV positive was ostracised by her community. Her shelter now houses nine HIV infected women, and they help in the upkeep of the centre with farming and animal husbandry. Laxmi has shown courage to overcome her personal bereavement and stigmatisation.

4 Pema Sherpa, Solukhumbu
Pema is the first midwife in the world to regularly use the Sono Site portable ultrasound machine and has crisscrossed Solukhumbu district, travelling from village to village on foot to examine pregnant women and deliver much-needed prenatal care and detect complications so mothers can seek hospital delivery if necessary. In her more than 20 years of work, Pema has lost count of the number of women whose lives she has saved. Besides her midwife work, she has also never been afraid to raise her voice against social injustice and corruption. She dared to speak out against a corrupt food dealer in one of the hospitals in Solu Khumbu when no one else did. Pema has been recognised for the complete devotion and total commitment with which she has devoted her life to her patients.

5 Deepa Rana Magar, Surkhet
Deepa lost both her limbs in an accident as a child, but has not let this deter her from helping others like her who are in need. She willed herself to lead an independent life and was determined to provide other women with opportunities to be financially self-sufficient, too. After completing high school, she worked as a facilitator at a Participatory Learning Center where she taught various income generating activities to a group of 20 women. She built on that experience and set up a women's cooperative which now has 500 members, and has generated income worth more than Rs 2,000,000.

6 Shrijana Pradhan, Kathmandu
Shrijana founded the Sipi Beauty Club 16 years ago, and is one of Nepal's leading beauticians with her own line of beauty products. She has set the standard for urban women entrepreneurs to strive for excellence, quality service and not compromise on professionalism and commitment.

7 Laxmi Timilsina, Kavre
Illiterate and married at a young age into a poor farming family, Timilsina led a very difficult life. However, things turned around when she participated in an agricultural training and women's savings and loan program conducted by the Women Awareness Center in Kavre. 3 months of adult literacy classes gave her the confidence to start an agriculture school which is now a pioneer in organic farming. Currently she serves as the district coordinator of the National Committee and has been working diligently for causes which promote women's empowerment.

8 Reshma and Mohilal Das, Dhanusha
Initially, Reshma and Mohilal Das faced tremendous hardships. They were landless, had to work on other people's farms and were struggling to pay back loans. However, their lives improved drastically after Reshma joined the Lok Pathshala project where she took literacy and social awareness classes. She learnt how to make concrete roof and floor tiles and now earns Rs 9,000 a month. She has paid off the family loan. Since she is busy earning a living, her husband takes care of household duties and even delivers her lunch. Reshma and Mohilal received this award jointly for breaking gender stereotypes, and showing what can be achieved by working as
a team.

9 Kavita Poudyal, Argakhanchi
At 65, Kavita (not pictured) looks back at a life spent in promoting Nepali literature. And at a time when the reputation of politicians is not very high, she used local politics to strive for social justice and equality. She has published seven novels, six short story books, and six song albums so far. Married when she was only nine, and having no formal education, she managed to create a niche for herself through sheer willpower. She is recognised for making a name for herself in the traditionally male-dominated field of literature.

Trishna Rana

1. Cynthia Wee-Hoefer
This is most touching to learn of the unsung heroines of Nepal. I salute these women and hope that the Awards will continue to recognise the efforts and success of individuals striving in their communities. Keep it up.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)