Around one quarter of Nepali people live on less than $1.90 a day according to the Asian Development Bank. In this young democracy prone to natural disasters, such as the earthquake of 2015 and the floods of 2017, subsistence agriculture is the main source of livelihood for four out of five people. However, it is not nearly enough to make ends meet.
If you are a woman and you are disabled, hardships may seem insurmountable. Dambari from Mudyara village, in the far western Doti district, knows it all too well.
Aged seven, Dambari’s uncle married her to a man who was 18 years older. After a bad fall, she lost the use of her right hand, leading to stigma in her family and community. Her husband left and never returned, leaving her alone and with no money.
CONNECT, the economic development component of the Rural Access Programme (RAP) which has been delivered by IMC since 1999, is linking women like Dambari to income-generating opportunities. CONNECT builds on RAP’s work, building and maintaining roads, to transform the way markets function in Nepal, so the poor can also benefit from the opportunities that result from improved roads.
One of CONNECT’s initiatives is a partnership with Unilever Nepal Limited, which has led to the appointment of 2 97women, known as Hamri Didis (in Nepali, ‘our sisters’), as rural sales agents in the Mid and Far West of Nepal.
I want to cry whenever I remember my past. I was very poor. I did not have enough to eat. Now it’s a lot better because of the Hamri Didis programme and materials from Unilever. Those who never lent a single penny, now they buy stuff from me. I had said that my day would arrive; now it’s my day.
– Dambari, one of the most active Hamri Didis in Doti district.
These women go door to door in Nepal’s remote areas to sell Unilever health and sanitation products, such as soap and detergents. As a result, rural communities now have access to essential commodities and income-generating opportunities. Meanwhile, multinationals like Unilever can reach remote populations, who would otherwise be inaccessible.
Dambari (first sitting from left) and fourteen other Hamri Didis recently attended a workshop in Kathmandu and had the opportunity to meet Unilever CEO Paul Polman (fifth from left). Photo by Unilever.
In a country where gender stereotypes are hard to break, the Hamri Didis initiative goes beyond providing entrepreneurial women with a job. It also builds their self-confidence and changes their outlook.
Dambari, who dreams of opening a bigger shop with more products, now actively works to prevent violence against women in her village. She even nominated herself as a candidate in the local election with full support from her second husband. Though she lost, she is happy because members of the community now treat her differently.
People used to call me handicapped, and treated me badly. And people didn’t believe me. After I started selling goods, they believe and respect me. Now everybody respects me. Nobody calls me handicapped.
So far, Dambari has billed 47,447 rupees, which is the equivalent of GBP 346. While her income as Hamri Didi is still modest, it adds to the little her husband earns from farming and allows her to provide for the education of her children and her sister-in-law’s children.
I wonder how RAP 3 found me. I think it’s my fate, I who once suffered a lot, now I feel fortunate.