Inspiring Nepalese Women Blog Series: Mandira Raut

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Could you tell me about the work you do? Can you talk a bit more about your position as at Today’s Youth Asia?

I joined Today’s Youth Asia (then known as ‘Today’s Youth’) in 2003 as a trainee-member of the ‘School Representative Media Training’ project. Since I lived in the school’s hostel, I needed special permission to attend the program every Saturday. At that time, the founder-president Santosh Shah used to spend most of his time teaching and training himself. We were a group of 40-50 students. I was a captain at my school, so I was already passionate about leadership.

Now, as the projects director, I head the youth programs related to learning, implementing and sharing leadership. My additional responsibility is to produce a daily television show involving the youths whom we train under various youth programs.

What motivated you to get into your field of work? Were there people/ events in your life that encouraged you to think about the work you do?

When I first joined TYA, I wasn’t really considering media as a career. But then after featuring in the magazines, I started writing articles, bringing wall magazines, I was 17 at that point. I liked that my voice was heard. I was always interested in bringing change, I was very vocal on politics and loved debating. The main issue I wanted to be heard on was the importance of staying in Nepal and contributing to the country’s development.

The Royal Massacre happened when I was15 years old, it was a really bad time. Going through all of that and the conflict, especially since I’m originally from a rural area where the conflict was much more intense than it was in Kathmandu, made me feel like I had to contribute. Witnessing the crisis of Maoists capturing young people from the villages and watching my own father’s company shut down because of extortion gave me a responsibility to do more because of my fortunate educational background.

Being a youth speaker, as a girl, at the International Women of Radio and Television Conference in 2007 was the first moment women’s leadership really clicked for me. It was the first program I had attended that was all women, and women from various sectors. The next year I was invited to another all-women gathering by the then-US Ambassador, Nancy Powell, on International Women’s Day. I was overwhelmed to be in a room with all the powerful women of Nepal, hearing them speak on women’s leadership, and seeing them unified around International Women’s Day. But I remember noticing that there weren’t many younger girls, I only saw senior leaders (at least 10-15 years older than me), which made me become more ambitious and determined to empower myself and create opportunities for young girls in Nepal. Three months later I ran the cover story titled ‘Women Leadership: The possibilities and challenges in South Asia’ in Today’s Youth Asia magazine.

What is the accomplishment you are most proud of?

Most of the youths I’ve trained have become leaders within their schools, became TV anchors of TYA-shows, joined the UN Youth and Students Association of Nepal, studied abroad, contributed newspaper editorials, etc. Seeing youth I’ve nominated thrive in new opportunities and knowing that I helped them get there is the most rewarding part of my work.

What skill/attitude etc. contributed to your success?

It all comes down to stability. If you ask any young people today, or even people up to the age of 30, they won’t know what they want to achieve and keep fluctuating between different plans and ideologies. I’ve seen many people leave something they love because they have other priorities and want a different life. But I’ve remained committed and sometimes I’ve suffered because of it, but sticking with my work and knowing that someday I’ll achieve what I want has brought me to where I am today. There are many challenges, but all the long hours and responsibility of holding two different positions while studying for my masters is worth it.

 

You work a lot with youth- how would you describe Nepalese youth? Have you seen any general changes in them over the past 5-10 years?  (bridging urban and rural youth)

I’ve seen Nepalese youth become more attracted to the Western world and an increasing desire to go abroad. The identity as a Nepali they used to have is now missing. The biggest challenge I face is my trainees leaving to go abroad. I could do so much more than I currently am if they stayed in Nepal. I’ve seen so many cases of students getting entrapped in everyday challenges, with family pressure and the competitive world preventing them from pursuing the dreams they started with. I think they need to stop chasing money and entertainment, and change priorities to commit their time and energy to their own development and the development of Nepal. In my experience, rural youths dream of Kathmandu, urban youth dream of overseas, so if we could empower more rural youths, then they would give more to their communities and the country.

I see the rural youths I work with as demoralized and less confident compared to the urban youth because they lack opportunities, but at the same time they’re definitely more disciplined and hardworking because they’ve gone through lot more struggles. I’ve noticed that when provided with opportunities, rural youths perform much better than urban.

In 2003, volunteers at TYA were so passionate about their work and I remember days we were all at the office from 7am to 11pm. But now youths don’t have that kind of conviction, discipline, creativity and commitment to follow-through that they used to. In order to be successful, they must be stable and really focused on their commitments. I’m also shocked by the state of education in Nepal right now – I don’t know if it’s because of the schools, or maybe the hopelessness of Nepal’s current political situation, but the current intellectual capacity is much less than before.

How do you empower young women through your work?

When talking about women’s leadership, I always talk about respect. It doesn’t matter if women and girls are educated or uneducated – they can do anything regardless of their educational status. My strategy to empower women is giving them respect and equal opportunity. Without both, they can’t utilize their knowledge or be empowered.

How much longer do you plan to stay in this field? What are your plans for the future?

I’m currently doing some very technical work, but I’m also a trainer and facilitator which I’ll do for my entire life. I won’t ever stop training young people, and young women specifically, since they are the future generation. I’d also love to officially train more women as well, like mothers and rural women who haven’t had many opportunities. If I have time, or after I complete my masters, I want to design a program that will bring change to lots of women’s lives. I’m confident they need it and they can do it well.

What are the challenges in the field you’re involved in? What are some of the obstacles to leadership that are unique to women in Nepal?

I’m a student, I’m a woman, and I have to handle my work at TYA. I always see obstacles as opportunities and each time I’ve been in trouble, I’ve turn it into an opportunity and grown through it.

A major challenge is the reluctance, and even refusal, of the older generation of leaders to create space for the younger generation. They must start grooming younger generations and creating the space and opportunities we need to step up into decision-making positions. I’ve seen a mother taking opportunities herself and not providing a platform to her daughter, rather than investing in her daughter who can go onto to do even more than she has. That’s the psychology of older generations – holding onto power and not giving opportunities to younger generations.

I feel very proud to say I’m in a decision-making position, especially since there are very only few young women in leadership in Nepal.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you during your work or outside of work?

Not just one, there have been so many women who have inspired me. Professionally, I respect women who are successful on their own merit and identity and financially independent, rather than those who just use their connections. Prabha Amatya, stands out for me in the media sector for her vision and constant ideology in media. She stands for what she does.

In politics, Dolma Tamang really inspires me. I’ve seen her in Sindhupalchowk (one of the most heavily trafficked districts along the Chinese border), working on anti-trafficking initiatives and am so touched that she’s a Constituent Assembly member even though she’s a widow. Her commitment and passion to fighting against human trafficking – despite huge push back – and achievements in building roads and schools, training teachers and empowering youth in the first HIV-affected area in Nepal is so amazing. It’s really unusual to find a political leader in this country who actually serves her people – frequently returning to her remote Tamang village. I haven’t seen any other political leader who is as committed to serving their constituents, and is as respected by them as Dolma.

Internationally, Dr. Dee Aker, the deputy director at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. When I first met her during an IPJ workshop for civil society leaders in Kathmandu, I was immediately inspired by her boldness and confidence. Since working with her during her trips to Nepal over the past three years, I’ve been inspired by her commitment to women’s leadership, her unique way of providing opportunities to young people, and her work to give a voice to women in Nepal.

The deadline for Nepal’s new constitution is coming soon. So, what rights do you want for women in the new constitution? What do you want to see happen for women in 2069?

I definitely want the constitution to be finished so we can move past the current deadlock. Within the constitution, I want the right of citizenship through mothers guaranteed and for this fundamental right to be translated into practice, especially in conflict-affected villages where many men were displaced/killed/disappeared since 1996. In the upcoming generation when Nepalese women will have more opportunities and become more empowered than ever before, it is critical that their fundamental rights are insured. In the coming year, I want the dependence on men that currently exists in Nepal to be broken, especially since there’s more women than men in Nepal.

What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders in Nepal?

We have to fight; not with weapons but with our intellectual capacity, with our ideas, with our passion, with what we believe in, with our work.

We have to remain committed to what we believe in and claim the promises that the country and leaders have made regarding our rights. We have a responsibility to give a voice to the people who are voiceless.

6 responses

  1. My dear behna, I am proud of you. And so glad to see that you are doing such a great job. Keep it up and lots of blessing from Denmark:)

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