Nepalese Women’s Stories : Goma Devi Bastola
When Ms. Goma Devi Bastola joined the Rural Women’s Network Nepal in 2011, it was as a volunteer. She became a member of the Board in 2013 and two years later, was elected President of the association.
Ms. Bastola is involved in several women’s networks: she is the General Secretary of Soroptimist Kathmandu, Nepal, and a Board member of the Association of Living Values Education Nepal. She was also awarded the Huford Youth Fellow 2016 in National Endorment for Democracy in the USA. Ms Bastola has participated in many conferences and workshops, both nationally and internationally, and has represented the voice of Nepalese girls and women across the world.
She is now working hard to make Nepalese girls and women’s education a priority in rural communities, like the community she comes from in Sindhuli District.
Today we listen to her story.
Let’s turn up the volume of Nepalese women’s voices!
Namaste Goma, can you please introduce yourself?
I am Goma Devi Bastola, I am the President of the Rural Women’s Network in Nepal (RUWON Nepal). I am a young woman activist and I have been working in this field for the past 8 years – and with RUWON since 2011. RUWON Nepal is an NGO and a national network that has been working to improve girls and women’s condition in Nepal since 2007. RUWON aims at improving education and empowerment of poor girls and women from rural areas of Nepal. It focuses on human rights – and women’s rights more particularly. Human rights issues in Nepal include poverty (especially in rural areas), education disparities, gender inequality, health issues, child rights violations. These are all burning issues.
How was your childhood like?
I grew up and attended school in Sindhuli District, which provided me with valuable insight into the challenges and inequalities faced by women and girls living in rural Nepal.
I am the fifth child of my parents. In my village, parents are really not happy to send their daughters to school but I was so lucky that my parents always wanted me and my sisters to be educated. They encouraged us to be polite and disciplined students. Unfortunately many girls in my community did not have the chance to go to school and were tortured because of the cultural background. Because of this male-dominated society, girls found themselves dominated in every sectors.
This contributed to my desire to become actively involved within the sector of women and girl’s rights, education and empowerment. Since I was a child I always wanted to be someone who can support women and who can protect them and their rights.
What was the turning point in your life, the moment you realised things had to change and that you would dedicate your life to advocating for women’s rights?
One day I was going to school and I saw a very big crowd in a village, in front of a house. I went there to see what actually happened. I saw a woman lying on the floor; the police was there too. I asked people what happened to the woman and finally found out that she was already dead. Her husband killed her because he knew she could not be a mother. He raped her with a stick and killed her. That story made me very motivated to work in the field of women’s rights and it also shows how the gender norms are still deep rooted in our communities and households. The woman was seen as worthless because she could not be a mother.
In 2019, what is like to be a woman in Nepal?
In our world even though women are the major founders of the society, they have still not achieved equality with men. There are many countries where women are seen as second-class citizens. No matter how talented they are, they never get a chance to improve their own’s lives. Women are still treated as subordinates even though the Constitution guarantees equal rights. In Nepal, two out of three women face domestic violence. Women are being discriminated in every aspect of the society.
Nepal is a patriarchal society and has vast inequalities in terms of education for boys and girls/men and women. Culturally, this means that women are seen as inferior to men. Socially, that they are more subject to physical, emotional and sexual violence. Politically, that women are confined to private spaces and less likely to be aware of their rights and freedoms, of civic participation, so less likely to be politically active. In all, this means that rural women and girls always finish last.
So what we all have to agree on is that women and girls have to become aware of their rights, develop the appropriate and relevant skills (such as problem solving, effective communication and negotiation skills) and get a better understanding of how to voice themselves and their ideas – and nothing should stop them!
My organization, RUWON Nepal, works with women and young girls who have never participated in political activities. Most of them did not have access to education or any employment opportunity outside of their homes. This results in a lack of economic independence. We run leadership and capacity building trainings, literacy classes and economic empowerment programs which have proved effective in bridging the gap in terms of women participation in social development and political process.
What about « feminism » in Nepal? What does it mean?
Feminism in Nepal is primarily concerned with equity and equality of opportunity. Most women in Nepal are considered to be under their husbands and fathers’ rules in a patriarchal society. It is imperative for the development of Nepal that men and women have equal opportunities to live healthy, safe and autonomous lives. Women and girls in rural areas frequently experience domestic abuse. They are less likely to receive education and they lack of opportunities on an economic, social and personal level. They are often dependent on others and unaware of their basic rights, which increases vulnerability.
I joined RUWON to provide a voice to rural women, to champion equality and improve access to education. RUWON encourages women’s organisations to become active participants within their communities in order to strengthen unity, promote individual contributions to society and seek greater equality. Whilst empowering and investing in marginalised women and girls, RUWON hopes to create a foundation for future development and innovation at an individual, local and national level.
What are your dreams?
I want a country where a young girl child has no chance to see a dead woman lying on the floor on her way to school.’ I want a country where gender equality is non negotiable.’