Karnali is not only the most affected war zone in Nepal but also has the worst record for women's rights. In the villages of Jumla, Kalikot, Jajarkot, Rukum and Dailekh districts, women spend most of their lives grazing cattle in the forests. They live in tents and sleep on the wet ground without much food to eat.
"Our husbands beat us if we don't work hard," says Darima Shahi from Jumla. "If we are unable to do hard labour, we will be kicked out of the house and society will consider us a shame," says the 22-year-old who has worked as a shepherdess since she was a child. Life was so hard that she even lost her child during delivery. "We live like animals," says Jankala from Kalikot. Her parents forced her to spend all her time in the forest and never sent her to school, even though it was near her village. "My future is destroyed because all I know is how to graze cattle." She walks with her cattle and wanders from one district to another through the forests. Security is a major concern, not from the Maoists or the army but from wild animals. "Our only protection are our dogs," says another shepherdess.
More than 200,000 girls and women here have never seen the inside of a school building. Statistics show 70 percent of women can't count money or even differentiate between currency notes. "They are worse off than even prisoners," says Sita Singh, a school teacher from Kalikot. She adds that besides grazing animals, the women also walk long stretches with heavy loads. There is an urgent need for developing income generation programs for these underprivileged women.