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HAT - Humanitarian Aid Trust Nepal

Nankala Magar’s Journey

Nankala Magar’s journey from a young widow and former Maoist combatant to a rural municipality’s Vice-Chairperson has been long and difficult.

Nankala is 37 years old and from Sunch­ha­hari Rural Munic­i­pal­ity in Rolpa. She lives with her mother-in-law and son. In her family home, Nankala grew up with five sib­lings; two sisters and three broth­ers. The family was poor, and none of her broth­ers and sisters could attend school. There was often not enough food for the family or warm clothes for the children.

By the age of sixteen, Nankala had enlisted in the People’s War with the People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army [PLA].

“I was too young and igno­rant to under­stand pol­i­tics and the rev­o­lu­tion going on. I joined the PLA, not by my choice but because I could not stay at home during those times.”,” Nankala recalls”

During her stay in the PLA’s camps, Nankala noticed that most of the people she met knew how to read and write. But Nankala had never been to school. She worked hard to improve her lit­er­acy, teach­ing herself to read and write. During the war, she also found love and married a man inside the rebel camp at 18.

“Even after the mar­riage, we did not get to sit together,” Nankala says. “We were only able to meet occa­sion­ally, and I accepted my fate as a combatant.”

A year later, a son was born to Nankala and her husband.

“We had exchanged our vows, accept­ing that our life was uncer­tain,” Nankala remem­bers. “We promised whoever among us sur­vived would raise our child.”

Less than a year after the birth of her son, Nankala’s husband died in the war. The sky, Nankala says, fell on her. Still, she coura­geously raised her only child, hon­our­ing her vow to her husband.

She couldn’t, however, foresee the dis­crim­i­na­tion she was to face at the hands of her own family.

“My in-laws cursed me, they looked at me with disgust, and I was treated as an untouch­able,” Nankala says.

“They thought I was respon­si­ble for the death of their only son, so I didn’t get any help from them. I was asked to stay away from home. I took shelter in the cowshed. There was no light or food in the barn. There were no clothes to wear. I spent many days and nights in the forest, crying with frus­tra­tion. Neg­a­tive thoughts held me back, but for the sake of my son, I tried my best to make ends meet. Even though I was scolded, I still cared for my in-laws and looked after them. I took them to the health post when­ever they felt ill.”

It was only when her son was study­ing in grade seven that they were invited to live inside the home. As time went by, slowly, things started chang­ing. Nankala had waited patiently for years for the moment her in-laws would accept her. She bore all kinds of pain in her heart yet never left their side through thick and thin.

Then, in 2017, there was a local elec­tion. Nankala was asked to contest the posi­tion of Ward Member. She agreed, but her mother-in-law was not happy about her deci­sion. She made her feel­ings known and again blamed Nankala for her son’s death. However, this time Nankala’s father-in-law spoke up to support her.

Nankala went on to win the elec­tion as a Ward Member, but soon, things started to unravel. She felt that, even though she had a posi­tion, she had no voice to create change.

“I was part of the local struc­ture but could not mean­ing­fully par­tic­i­pate. I didn’t know much,” Nankala says. “I didn’t know how to speak well, so speak­ing on the issues was dif­fi­cult. Even when I dared to speak out some­times, they would silence me. I often won­dered how I would learn all this, how I could empower myself and how I was sup­posed to bring change.”

In 2018, INF Nepal imple­mented the EDUCATE project in Sunch­ha­hari Rural Munic­i­pal­ity in Rolpa Dis­trict. The project created groups of single women, fam­i­lies of people with dis­abil­i­ties, low-income fam­i­lies and dis­ad­van­taged groups to help empower them within the com­mu­nity. Nankala became a member of one of the Self Help Groups, taking an active part in the group’s life.

“We were facil­i­tated to iden­tify our prob­lems and find solu­tions by our­selves. We dis­cussed issues such as san­i­ta­tion, waste man­age­ment, and gender-based vio­lence and were pro­vided with train­ing in liveli­hood-related activ­i­ties. In the meeting itself, every member had to take turns as Chair. It was a strug­gle ini­tially, but even­tu­ally, all members started to speak out, to lead. We were learn­ing the art of speak­ing and voicing our issues.”

Nankala took advan­tage of the unique oppor­tu­nity through the project’s regular Self Help Group meet­ings and train­ing. She devel­oped her lead­er­ship skills by inter­act­ing with group members and the wider com­mu­nity. She began par­tic­i­pat­ing in dis­cus­sions of various social issues that improved her social presence.

“There was no dis­crim­i­na­tion. Every­one treated me with respect,” Nankala remem­bers. “During group activ­i­ties, they encour­aged me to speak and give pre­sen­ta­tions. I felt valued and heard for the first time in my life.”

Nankala was also selected as the Gender Focal Person in her Self-Help Group. She took the lead in iden­ti­fy­ing and mon­i­tor­ing women’s issues and cases of domes­tic vio­lence against women in her group. As a part of liveli­hood support, Nankala also received train­ing and was pro­vided with NPR 20,000 [around AUD 250] from the project for poultry farming.

Nankala’s quest for empow­er­ment started with the train­ing pro­vided by INF Nepal on Sexual and Gender-Based Vio­lence, which imprinted upon her the valu­able lesson that “empow­er­ment begins with me.” She had a strong desire not only to strengthen herself but to be the voice of many other women like her.

Reflect­ing on the abuse and social stigma that she expe­ri­enced, Nankala says, “My journey has been lonely and full of strug­gle, but things have now changed for me. I realised that keeping quiet was not an option. We must exer­cise our voice and share our thoughts to demand pos­i­tive change. I want to stand for all those women like me through my involve­ment in groups and as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the ward office.”

The train­ing and expo­sure not only built Nankala’s con­fi­dence but encour­aged her to make a pos­i­tive change. Just as Nankala’s tenure as a Ward Member was about to end, she had a deep sense that she still had much more to do and that this was just the beginning.

Nankala pro­posed to her party to be nom­i­nated for the post of Vice-Chair­per­son of Sunch­ha­hari Rural Munic­i­pal­ity in the local elec­tion of 2022. Ini­tially, it was a strug­gle for her as no one believed in her, but she did not give up.

“I did not hes­i­tate to put forward my pro­posal,” Nankala says. “The more they said I couldn’t, the stronger I became.”

Nankala con­tested the posi­tion and won! She is now the newly elected Vice-Chair­per­son of Sunch­ha­hari Rural Munic­i­pal­ity. In this role, she will be leading the local Judi­cial Com­mit­tee. This is an impor­tant and chal­leng­ing role which seeks to ensure that justice is deliv­ered for every­one in the com­mu­nity. More than simply a legal body, the com­mit­tee has the right to settle dis­putes through medi­a­tion. Nankala now lives with her mother-in-law and eigh­teen-year-old son, study­ing in 12th grade.

“The support pro­vided by INF Nepal for my capac­ity build­ing has been immense and invalu­able to me,” the new leader says with a smile. “I am always grate­ful to INF Nepal and Bach­hapo Self Help Group for bring­ing pos­i­tive change in my life. The seed of women’s lead­er­ship has been planted in me, and I will ensure our voices are heard at all levels and that people like me are treated with respect and dignity.”