Why Women Must Co-Lead Nepal

The potential for young women to be a strong force for change in Nepal is huge, but their voices, and experience remain marginalized in the democratic process.

Women LEAD’s LEAD Course alumni pose for the photo.

This post was written by Claire Naylor,Women LEAD’s executive director.

This year, perhaps more than ever before, there’s a pervasive feeling that women truly can do anything — even be president. Yet despite the optimism and a splintering glass ceiling, we still see, over and over again, that women are held to separate, dizzyingly high standards. Women in leadership today still have to work twice as hard to get half as far.

This expectation gap becomes even greater when you look to other countries, where women are still fighting to be treated as equals. In Nepal, where we have achieved the milestone of having a female president, still, women’s political participation is declining, and the country’s new constitution prevents single mothers from passing along citizenship to their children. As we look to celebrate International Democracy Day on September 15, it’s a time to reflect on the commitment we must make to ensure that men and women are not only active participants, but also leaders in our global society.

For a democracy as young as Nepal’s, 2016 feels like a particularly relevant time to reflect on the country’s trajectory. The potential for young women to be a strong force for change in Nepal is huge, but their voices, and experience remain marginalized in the democratic process, despite the fact that women now hold three of the highest political positions in the country.

That’s where Women LEAD comes in. Each year, Women LEAD selects 30 exceptional young women from in and around Kathmandu in Nepal to join our year-long LEAD (Leadership, Education, Advocacy, and Development) Course. Our program participants, or LEADers, come from diverse backgrounds. Some dream of going into social work, while others want to pursue careers in business and banking. Some are from higher socio-economic families, while others are from more disadvantaged backgrounds. All, however, are united by one common vision and purpose: a desire to create a more just and equal Nepal.

Through Women LEAD, we empower the next generation of leaders, both in Nepal and globally. We instill in our emerging young women leaders the mindset that they truly can accomplish anything they set their mind to, and help them build the skill sets that they’ll need to be successful change agents.

Now imagine if we could empower every young woman and girl with the courage to lead change in her own school, community, and nation.

It isn’t hard to imagine. In the time that I have served as the Executive Director of Women LEAD, I have seen how the 1,250 women and girls we’ve empowered through our programs have gone on to enact positive change in their communities. Girls like Reeti, an aspiring journalist, who is using the power of the pen to talk about issues that are rarely discussed in Nepali society, or Rajina, who organized the first-ever workshop for female tech students in Nepal in 2013, and is relentlessly working towards her vision of a women-friendly STEM industry.

Last week, while announcing the expansion of the Let Girls Learn initiative into Nepal and Laos, President Obama said, “None of our countries anywhere in the world can truly succeed unless our girls and our women have every opportunity to success, the same opportunities as boys and men do.”

This includes the opportunity to lead. All girls — whether in the United States, Nepal, or any other country — should grow up with the belief that they, too, can (and should) become leaders.


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