Women’s centres help empower women to claim their rights and regain their footing
Pics: Ayesha Shakya
Sita Rajbhandari*(above) was home alone in Taruka, Nuwakot when her cousin’s father-in-law attempted to rape her. Instead of keeping mum and letting it go, Rajbhandari was adamant that the perpetrator be brought to justice. But the district police headquarters refused to file her case.
Acting under pressure from political parties affiliated with the assailant, the police tried convincing her to settle the dispute without going through official channels.
Determined to get justice, Rajbhandari approached the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) for help. Within a few hours Rajbhandari had registered her case.
“The police told me that I was wasting my time and that WOREC would not support me later. They told me organisations like WOREC would come and go but I would have to live here and deal with my problems alone,” says Rajbhandari.
Over the past year, thousands of vulnerable women like Rajbhandari have been assisted by women’s centres run by organisations such as WOREC. Established by UN Women in partnership with women’s groups, these multi-purpose women’s centres have been operational in Kavre, Sindhupalchok, Nuwakot, Gorkha and Kathmandu districts, and are geared towards vulnerable women such as widows, disabled women and women from low-income backgrounds.
The centres provide a diverse range of services, including psychosocial counselling, trauma assistance, legal advice and information dissemination.
While women like Rajbhandari approach the women’s centre directly for assistance, a large portion of cases have been registered through social mobilisers deployed in the community.
“As social mobilisers, we need to create a homely environment so that women who approach us feel comfortable in opening up to us,” says Manisha Thapa, a social mobiliser working with WOREC.
Before meeting Thapa, Rajbhandari was almost coaxed out of her decision.
“I was told I would be given Rs 10 lakhs for social projects, including roads, to be completed in my name. Even my parents were ready to settle if the perpetrator apologised. But I refused because I knew that only the law would make this right,” says Rajbhandari.
Thapa not only assisted Rajbhandari with legal procedures but also counselled her, giving her the opportunity to share about her struggles and helping to boost her morale. While waiting for her SLC results, Rajbhandari is now learning sewing from the Chori Sanstha, a vocational training centre.
SUPPORT SYSTEM: Social mobiliser Geeta Basnet (second from left) talks to women in Bhattagaun, Nuwakot.
“I have been able to regain my confidence because of Manisha-didi’s help. I wouldn’t have been able to reach this stage without the guidance provided by the women’s centre,” says Rajbhandari.
According to Thapa, 78 cases have been filed in Nuwakot itself, 48 of which are related to domestic violence. Facing abuse from her husband and in-laws, Rama Gurung* left her home and moved to Bidur to live with her daughter. As an ex-Maoist cadre recruited at the age of 13, Gurung only received basic education and had no means to make a living.
“Joining WOREC last year encouraged me to start something on my own. So I took out a loan of Rs 90,000 and started my own lassi shop. On a good day, I get 20 to 25 customers. Although it is hard, it helps me pay my rent and raise my daughter,” says Gurung.
However, much work remains to be done. Gurung is still fighting for full custody over her daughter, and Rajbhandari’s assailant remains free after being detained for only six days.
“Although the final verdict is still pending, her assailant is back in the village. Since Sita will have to return to the village, we still need to plan how we can support her,” adds Thapa.
Names have been changed