Nepali Times
Life Times
The real life Durgas

HIGH ACHIEVERS: The winners of Celebrating Womanhood Awards 2012 pose for photographs at Yala Maya Kendra on Tuesday.
When Shrijana Singh Yonjan started Celebrating Womanhood Navadevi Awards in 2002, it was more a fashion program where the who's who of Kathmandu Valley gathered for a night of entertainment. Eleven years later, it is one of the most awaited award ceremonies which recognises the extraordinary achievements of ordinary Nepali women from Surkhet to Solukhumbu.

"Award ceremonies in Nepal usually focus on well-known women from the entertainment industry or NGO and INGO circuit. We wanted to change this trend and support women who have made their way up from the bottom rung of the social and economic hierarchy," says Yonjan.

From HIV activists to athletes with disabilities, a total of 119 women have been rewarded in the past decade. The award recipients have not only fought gender stereotypes, but earned the respect of local communities through their dogged determination and altruism. The women also get the opportunity to build networks with fellow awardees and potential investors.

This year's recipients include a civil servant from Kathmandu who is redefining waste management, a folk singer from Pokhara, a professional sprinter with a disability, and a housewife who has overcome her illiteracy to run a microfinance institution in Makwanpur.

Bishnu Thakali

Bishnu collects things that other people are dying to throw away. As president of Women Environment Preservation Committee (WEPCO) she is at the forefront of recycling and has found ingenious ways to turn household waste into compost, biogas, and recycled paper for the past 20 years. She is also training other women about recycling techniques and providing them with job opportunities.

Neeta Sapkota

After nearly two decades as a presenter at Nepal Television, Neeta is now a household name among audiences across the country. She has produced programs on health, education, and gender for pre-schoolers to teenagers and used TV as a tool to empower the youth.

Maiya Bisunkhe

Born without a right hand, Maiya used to beg on the streets of Jhapa for survival. Losing her mother at a young age pushed her further into the fringes of poverty, but despite her disability and difficult childhood, Maiya is one of the most accomplished athletes in Nepal today. She competed in the recently held Para Olympics in London, Asian Para Games in China, and Under-16 Asian Championship in Japan and has won several gold medals. The 19-year-old who currently lives at SOS Children's Village in Jorpati is thankful for the support of her friends and specially Father Robin Nepali.

Mohana Ansari

Mohana was the first person in her family to graduate from college with a degree in law who then went on to earn her master's degree. She is also the only female Muslim attorney in Nepal. Growing up in a conservative community, she dared to rebel against the practices and beliefs that demean women. Not satisfied with her personal achievement, she has been helping other women by providing free advocacy and legal training in over 45 districts. As a member of the National Women's Commission she is fighting for the right of quick and fair trial for rape victims and citizenship in the name of the mother.

Sabita Rai

Sabita was only 20 when she decided to commit her life to the cause of single women subjected to violence and exploitation. Even after a decade her enthusiasm and strength haven't wavered. She is the president of the Single Women's Group of Dharan and advocates for women's rights. The group has built a shelter for victims of violence. She also counsels victims and prepares them to face the police before reporting the abuse. The group has also started saving and credit facilities for women.

Om Devi Malla

Om Devi is the executive chairperson of Reliable Saving and Credit Cooperative Society and is among the few women who have successfully climbed the corporate ladder. She strongly believes that every Nepali woman deserves to live a life of dignity and that this is only possible when women are economically independent. She has been working relentlessly to make economic policies more women-friendly and is a strong advocate for a cooperative culture from the grassroots level.

Prativa Subedi

Prativa Subedi not only works to empower rural women providing them with economic opportunities through her organisation Women Awareness Centre Nepal (WACN). The organisation's cost-effective programs have generated more than rupees 4 million in women's savings and investments, benefiting thousands of women through the 41 cooperatives across Nepal.

Hari Devi Koirala

Living legend Hari Devi Koirala has been enriching Nepali music with her soulful melodies for over three decades and is an inspiration for all budding musicians. She has composed, sung, and compiled 75 solo and 24 group albums. Even after 30 years in the field her songs continue to warm the hearts of listeners. Besides music, she has dedicated her life to speak out against injustices done to women and children. She also established the Literature and Music Appreciation Trust to support Nepali music and artists.

Rajyalaxmi Nakarmi

Rajyalaxmi Nakarmi has come a long way from a teacher to deputy director of the Department of Education under the Ministry of Education. But throughout her journey she has not failed to uplift the quality of education for all. Her contribution in developing a modern educational system is enormous. She also played an instrumental role in introducing sex education and HIV/AIDS awareness in schools 20 years ago when it was still considered a taboo. She is currently in charge of facilitating the implementation of programs to make education accessible for children throughout Nepal.

Kanchi Gole and Somlal Gole

Kanchi Gole and Somlal Gole from Makwanpur are an exemplary couple. While Kanchim provides free health services and advice to children and pregnant women in her community, her husband Somlal takes care of household chores and works as a painter. Through Kanchi's initiatives Shrijana Women's Savings and Loan Cooperative was established which has helped women farmers and small business owners become financially independent. Today the cooperative has 706 women share holders. Kanchi and Somlal have show how couples working together can overcome immense difficulties and inspire an entire community.

Celebrating Womanhood

See also:
Nine lives,
Common women with uncommon passion to help others are awarded

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)