By Megan Foo
Volunteering with Women LEAD has opened my eyes to the harrowing reality that many girls in Nepal face: the reality of being denied a quality education. The initiatives I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of, be it conducting research on girls’ education in Nepal, blogging about the importance of women’s leadership, or leading our Hong Kong chapter and organizing fundraising events to provide leadership training to Women LEAD’s girl pioneers in Nepal, have reminded me of the host of deep-rooted obstacles to education equity in countries ravaged by extreme poverty. The prospect of attending school remains a distant dream for girls in Nepal, many of whom face cultural, gender-based and economic barriers to education.
But more significantly, volunteering with Women LEAD has shown me the importance of leveraging the power of women. Women LEAD has adopted an enlightened philosophy: the full participation of women in schools and decision-making levels is crucial to creating peaceful and inclusive societies. Our untiring advocates, who are hellbent on fighting for gender equality and women’s leadership, work with the belief that neither a family’s economic situation nor deep-rooted social stigmas should limit a girl’s potential to succeed in school and become a game-changing leader in her community.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once said, “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world”. The impact of giving a girl an education reverberates in myriad contexts and changes the very fabric of our society, turning the tides of gender inequality and safeguarding our global economy. Claire Charamnac, Women LEAD’s Co-Founder and United States Executive Director, is a relentless champion of women’s education and leadership. A young female leader herself, Claire understands the importance of empowering girls with the same opportunities as those given to boys, and believes absolutely in the power of women to create change in their communities and nation.
In Nepal, 60% percent of women are illiterate and one third of girls ages 15-19 are married. A meager 18% of Nepali women have a secondary education or higher and 10% of the country’s leaders are women. However, the dedicated team of volunteers at Women LEAD stress the need for girls’ education, and emphasize that education, including leadership training, is critical in lifting girls out of poverty and breaking the glass ceiling. Our Leadership Institute’s results are astonishing: 90% of Women LEAD’s graduates are attending university in Nepal, India, the USA and Bangladesh.
The girls who come into our programs lack family support for their academic and vocational choices, and have limited access to financial and educational resources needed for their professional success. Women LEAD’s programs, however, equip young women with leadership skills not just for the future, but starting today. Over the course of the leadership programs, our participants actively channel their skills and knowledge to empower hundreds of girls in their community. Leadership workshops for younger girls shed light on issues typically swept under the rug, including domestic violence, reproductive education, gender-based discrimination and corporal punishment. Women LEAD’s dynamic Internship Track allows women to intern at Nepali NGOs and hone their professional skills, gaining work experience in their chosen field. Through our School Leadership and Internship Tracks, women will learn more about themselves and their country, and potentially spearhead Nepal’s political and economic initiatives.
But Women LEAD’s work does not stop here. We hope to provide scholarships to 160 promising young women leaders: 10 year-long scholarships, and 150 four-month scholarships. By supporting Women LEAD and sponsoring scholarships for our next generation of women leaders, you will engender a safe community of young leaders where women realize that their opinions, passions and talents matter. By giving these girls a chance to attend school, you will be empowering them to gain confidence in their skills, and encouraging them to raise their voices and become the vanguards for change. You are not just investing in one woman; you’re investing in the future of Nepal, and the future of our society. Donate, spread the word, and help Women LEAD change Nepal, one young woman leader at a time.