Breaking Down Gender Barriers in Rural Nepal
Child marriage has been illegal in Nepal since 1963, and today the country has one of the highest legal ages of marriage in the world. In some communities, however, the tradition of marrying off children while they’re still in their teens continues. In the district of Dhanusa, where Teach For Nepal Fellows Anuva Upreti, Sonon Chaudhary and Pratik Ghimire live and teach, 85% of residents marry before turning 19, with girls most significantly impacted.
While Teach For Nepal strives to ensure all children have the opportunity to fulfill their potential, these Fellows saw an opportunity to work with their placement community towards a more equitable future for its girls. The three launched the Sohani Mujeliya Youth Club to address deeply rooted social norms through sports and the arts for both boys and girls. Through the club’s co-ed approach to activities, Anuva, Sonon, and Pratik are helping to change local perspectives on child marriage while at the same time promoting their students’ cultural identity.
Anuva Upreti (in glasses), Sonon Chadhury (in black scarf, to Anuva's left),
and Pratik Ghimire (in black hat) with members of the youth club
While participating in Teach For Nepal’s summer training institute in 2015, Anuva, was surprised to learn that many parents in the areas where Teach For Nepal works value educating their sons over their daughters. As a Fellow, Anuva’s first step toward addressing gender inequality was collaborating with her students and Teach For Nepal colleagues on launching the youth club. Anuva began introducing cultural activities such as performing arts—traditionally limited to boys—and Mithili drawing and crafts—historically practiced by girls—to all students. These initiatives are leading to changes in local attitudes toward female performance, and with their new skills, many of the girls in the club have begun to re-envision a different future for themselves.
Like Anuva, Pratik quickly understood the additional challenges his female students faced in completing their education and realizing their potential. For cultural and financial reasons, child marriage increases gender inequality because the less a girl is educated the lower a dowry her parents will have to pay for her marriage. Patrik is working to address this inequity by highlighting female role models in the community. He encourages both boys and girls to think beyond traditional gender roles by engaging them in activities that confront cultural stereotypes—involving girls in sports and introducing boys to arts and crafts.
In her remote placement community, Sonon was taken aback by the high student dropout rate, and the frequency of marriage invitations among her students. Through her teaching and work with the youth club, she recognized that boys have the potential to become role models in elevating the position of girls in a male-dominated society. One aspect of her approach to challenging inequity is to help boys understand the unjust gulf between the opportunities awaiting them and their female peers.
While the three Fellows realize there is still a long way to go before every student has the education, support, and opportunity they deserve, they have seen successful breakthroughs. In the youth club, the students speak openly about the dowry system and the Fellows encourage and support them, when possible, to engage their parents in discussions around child marriage, highlighting the importance of their education.
“As a result of the cultural activities, we have seen that the mindsets of teachers and some community members are shifting,” said Anuva. “And they have given 10th grader Rukshana the confidence to speak up to her family, express disagreement about her arranged marriage, and convince them to continue her studies instead.”
“For me, acts of boldness are what [our female students] have done,” shared Sonon. “They say ‘I will study and play games despite the hurdles’ and are inspiring other girls in school as well. Many girls and boys are coming out of their comfort zone and acting boldly to change things.”