2015 LEADer Kunsang was walking to school when she came across an undressed woman sitting outside on the street and she could sense that something else was wrong—the woman had been raped.
December 10th—Human Rights Day—marks the end of UNiTE’s 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence. For the past two weeks at Women LEAD, we’ve involved our 2015 LEADers in a range of different activities around the topic, from a session on street harassment and self-defense, to a documentary-led discussion on child marriage in Nepal.
At Women LEAD, we encourage our program participants to exercise their leadership skills to bring about change in their communities. So what exactly does women’s leadership have to do with violence prevention?
Simply put, a lot. Studies have shown that when there are more women in parliament, legislatures are more likely to pass laws on issues that affect women, including domestic violence. But women—and girls—do not need to be in formal positions of power in order to change the status quo.
Kunsang, a 2015 LEADer in our program, was walking to school when she came across an undressed woman sitting outside on the street. Unfortunately, while it is not uncommon to see homeless individuals on Kathmandu’s streets, she could sense that something else was wrong—the woman had been raped.
Kunsang knew she could not walk away from the situation and took it upon herself to look into the matter. Kunsang, who feels strongly about “the security of street women,” encouraged bystanders to give the woman a shawl so she could cover up. She then approached the police, and helped the woman file a report.
Not everyone was as willing to help Kunsang in her endeavors, though. “When I asked a shopkeeper to give her dal bhat, he made an unwilling face,” she said, referring to the Nepal’s national dish of steamed rice and lentil soup. “I told him, ‘I will pay you, she needs to eat. If dal bhat is not prepared, then give her milk tea.’”
But when Kunsang returned to pay for the tea, she found that the shopkeeper had had a change of heart. “It was a big surprise for me that the shop owner who previously wasn’t willing to give anything [to the woman] now refused to take money for the tea, saying it’s for the ‘social cause,’” she said.
When I asked Kunsang to share this story with me, she referenced sessions from our intensive two-week long Leadership Institute, where we encouraged our LEADers to think about different ways that they can bring about change in their communities. “Each session, when applied into our real life, brings change into reality,” she said. “People much older [than me] did follow my lead for the right cause, [and] overall it was teamwork that mattered more than anything else.”
It will take more than 16 days to end gender-based violence, both in Nepal and around the world. Empowering girls to speak out and be leaders in the communities will be critical as we work toward a life free from violence for all women and girls.