Becoming The Feminist Activist

Sunita Basnet
Published on: January 2012
Having been born and brought up as an eldest daughter in a traditional Hindu family in eastern Nepal, I have observed rural women's hard work and responsibility for household chores including taking care of cattle and agricultural work which by custom until today are regarded as women's work. And still all this work is neither recognized nor acknowledged. It was not an easy task for girls to do all these jobs and still be able to continue their study, walking one hour everyday to school.

As a result of work burden, many of my girl friends dropped out of school. On the other hand, boys were always encouraged to go to school and studied at home without being responsible for any chores around the house or at field.

I cannot pinpoint one event that transformed me into a feminist activist. I feel I always knew I was a feminist. The first thing I notice was that girls were taught to be silent and follow the order of parents without questioning. When they were young they were asked to look after their siblings or learn the household chores. But the question that oftens come to my mind was WHY? Why only girls? I was told that girls are meant for others so they should learn everything to make in-laws happy. Another thing I noticed was that men gathered and discussed about the welfare of our community.
becoming the feminist activist,sunita basnet,nepal
I was curious to know why women were fully ignored from the groups. I was told that wom-en were not capable of handling outsides work and the work of women is all about domestic chores. Later, I understand that it was an inherent patriarchy that subordinates women. All of these encouraged me to take an initiative at the age of 16 when I create a women's saving group, a microfinance run by women, to allow women to be economically empowered. As the first women's group in my village, we faced many challenges.

The first challenge was women's hesitation to join the group because they thought that joining the group is a waste of time and going against the family. The second challenge was my gender and age. Being a rural girl, people expected me to be quiet, shy, dutiful and disciplined.

Likewise, leaders in my community were only educated MEN above 40s. Finally, there was the resistance from men who thought that I was brainwashing their wives and daughters and wasting their time and money. For this, I was even called an unrea-sonable person but this didn't shake me. In fact, I love to be unreasonable, if it is good for the larger population.

And I challenge all of you to be unreasonable when needed, if you really want to see the change around you. But you should know what you are doing. At that time, I knew I was speaking out for justices and fair treatment between men and women which was unac-ceptable in my culture. This discrimination between men and women in our society inspired me to become who I am today. However, this is not what a parent wants for their daughter in a male dominated society. My parents especially my father always wanted me to be a bank officer (Since banking in Nepal is consi-dered as a very good job for women in terms of safety and salary).

After finishing my schooling in a public school, I was sent to a commerce school where I received the full scholarship as a deserving student from public school. My father was very happy thinking that his dream was coming true. Till then, I didn't know what I wanted to study and I could consult with any one, although I wanted to make women economically empowered.

My life took a turning point when I lead the campaign in 2007 for Constitutional Assembly and People's Dialogue supported by a NGO, INSEC, (Informal Sector Service Center) that works for human rights and social justices. While working with local politicians and grassroots people including women, I understood what I wanted to do in the future. Then I moved to Bangladesh to better understand myself when I received full scholarship at Access Academy Asian University for Women.

This university has been an eye-opener for me. I got a chance to connect with outside world and have access to some platform where I could raise my voice. I was one of the 30 women selected from over 500 applicants from 21 countries, to receive training in citizen journalism and empowerment in the World Pulse Voices of Our Future Program.

World pulse is a media platform that is committed to raise the voice of voiceless women from every corner of the world. After the six month citizen journalism training, I was awarded as one of 3 best awardees from 30 women to go to USA and speak in 5 different states including US Department States. After joining the world pulse, suddenly a lot of connections and opportunities opened up for me. I was invited to USA second time to speak at first TED women conference in Washington DC.
I was chosen as a representative of Nepal to speak at the first One Young World summit in London. One Young World is a platform to raise the global issues by Young people and bring together the Youngest, brightest and best leaders to ensure that their concerns, opinions and solutions are heard. In last August, I joined the second One Young World Summit in Switzerland where I was leading the Media resolution. Even social media like - facebook, twitter and blogging has played a crucial role to foster my activism. With the help of social media and my networks, I won IWHC Young visionary grant 2010 to do a free health clinic and street drama in my community. This all happened so fast, in less than eight months - boom, boom, boom!

The more I engage with activism, the more I am inspired. Currently, I am actively advocat-ing on women's rights issues especially on how women can be empowered socially, economically, and politically by using the power of web 2.0 through world pulse media platform. When I organized the drama and free health clinic, it was very easy to get support from my community and some neighbors have started to come to me to seek advice on how and where to send their daughters to school. Yes-terday the same people were reluctant to hear my voice but today they are seeking my help. Even the world is waiting to hear me.

There are some families in my community who could not afford the education fee of their children and when they have to make a choice, usually the girls are left out. Realizing this situation, I along with my Mentor Carol Anderson and Janice Wong have recently started a scholarship program called "Didi Bahini Scholarship for Hope" for six girls in my community to support their admission fee, tuition fee and stationary.

We are doing everything we can, to make sure that the girls do not drop out of school. Recently, I have been selected as one of the top 111 out of 60,000 candidates at your big year competition. In the future, I want to involve more actively in activism especially to protect and promote women's rights and social Justices. Currently, I am preparing myself for attending several workshops, international conferences, training and networking.

My advice to young feminists in my country and abroad is to pursue their work and pas-sion despites any challenges you may face due to their gender or age. It is not easy but it is also not impossible. We together can do it if we do anything from heart, but it will take some time. If you are working in a patriarchal context like mine, please do not isolate men but rather work with them so that they will create fewer barriers in your work.

Author's notes: I will be using this to speak at "Asian Feminisms and Activism" under the sub theme "Voices from Asian Feminist Activism" on January 2012.
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