SEATTLE, Washington — Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN) is a nonprofit organization that uses adventure sports, trekking and tourism to improve the lives of women throughout the South Asian country of Nepal. Sisters Lucky, Dicky and Nicky Chhetri, three trekking guides in the Himalayas, founded the organization in 1999 in Pokhara, Nepal. EWN offers various programs for women and girls with the goal of preparing them for a possible career in the outdoor sports or tourism industries, and then continues to support them at each stage of their lives.
Nepalese Women Face Violence, Discrimination and Patriarchy
Nepalese women and girls are subject to discrimination and violence in Nepal’s patriarchal society, particularly those who live in rural or impoverished areas. They are often denied opportunities to attend school and many are forced to marry young. Violence towards women also increased during and after the Nepalese Civil War, which lasted from 1996 to 2006, leaving many widows and single women vulnerable in a society that values family. EWN’s programs seek to empower women with the tools they need to find fulfilling careers in the tourism industry. It does this while simultaneously ensuring comfort and assistance as they navigate the challenges of womanhood in Nepal.
Empowering Women of Nepal’s largest and most successful program is the Female Trekking Guide Training Program, a four-week intensive hosted twice a year during the tourism off-season. About forty participants from around Nepal travel to the Kaski region for each session. There, they learn about trekking and tourism, along with geography, women’s issues and rights, first aid and basic English. Following completion of the month-long intensive program, EWN offers participants a paid apprenticeship with 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking – the sister organization of EWN co-founded by the same women – where graduates put their new skills to good use as trekking guides. This training equips Nepalese women with the experience needed to work in the tourism or trekking industries of Nepal. The program continues to grow every year, with more than 75 women participating in 2017.
The Female Trekking Guide Training Program is by no means EWN’s only program that empowers women. EWN also runs a one-week course called the Women’s Initiation in Eco-Tourism. It is open to women from Jumla, Mugu, Kalikot, Humla and Dolpa — areas with high poverty rates. This course also teaches attendees about outdoor sports and trekking, women’s health and basic English skills. It also informs them about the importance of hygiene practices, environmental awareness and utilizing local foods. With skills learned through EWN, women can find employment in these industries and provide for themselves and their families.
Funding for Midwife Training
In addition to these programs, Empowering Women of Nepal provides scholarships for girls in Nepal’s Jumla, Humla, Mugu, Dolpa and Kalikot districts to attend the midwife training program at their local technical school. These scholarships are intended to address Nepal’s dire need for maternal care – in 2016, 42% of births in Nepal lacked the supervision of a skilled attendant such as a midwife. Giving birth without an attendant increases the risk of complications. In severe cases, complications can be fatal for both mother and child. Through the programs EWN helps fund, girls gain the tools and knowledge needed to support pregnant women in Nepal.
While many of Empowering Women of Nepal’s programs focus on adults, their Girls Leadership Training (GOAL) empowers adolescents with similar tools for success. Nepalese girls between 12 and 17 attend GOAL for up to nine months, where they take four different courses:
- Be Yourself, which focuses on communication, peer pressure and issues surrounding gender
- Be Healthy, which discusses body image, hygiene, sexuality and menstruation
- Be Empowered, which teaches attendees about violence against women, women’s rights and environmental issues
- Be Money Savvy, which focuses on budgeting, spending and employment.
One course runs for an hour at each GOAL session, followed by sports or a creative activity. This program not only teaches girls information that can help them lead happy and successful lives. It also allows for the development of support structures and communities. EWL established GOAL in partnership with Women Win, an international organization that promotes the empowerment of women and girls through sports.
For adventurous tourists who visit the area, Empowering Women of Nepal, in partnership with 3 Sisters Trekking, also runs a rock climbing area in the Methlang village just outside of Pokhara. They train Nepalese women to become basic rock climbing instructors at this location. Those who show exceptional skill or interest have the opportunity to become advanced climbers. Tourists in Nepal are able to visit this location and climb on one of their 18 different routes. The activities are led by women trained through the program.
How to Support Empowering Women of Nepal
The best way to support Empowering Women of Nepal is by trekking with them! 3 Sisters Trekking, for example, offers trekking and tourism opportunities throughout the Himalayan region in Nepal. Activities such as trekking, paragliding, and rafting are open to tourists from around the world. Registering for these outdoor events does more than just start an adventure. It also provides direct support to Empowering Women of Nepal, allowing them to continue their programs that benefit Nepalese women and girls.
– Daryn Lenahan