The Sisters for Sisters project is supporting over 9,000 marginalised girls in Nepal, helping them to transition from primary to secondary school, and leave school ready to continue their education or secure sustainable employment.
The project offers remedial after-school classes for girls, in which “Big Sisters”- young, local women with training in life skills and education – mentor, inspire and motivate their ‘Little Sisters’, ensuring they get the education they need to unlock their potential.
The government of Nepal's recent focus on education has made it more accessible, affordable and attainable. Enrolment, particularly for girls, has increased in primary schools. However, there are still many challenges including high drop-out rates amongst girls, repetition of grades and absenteeism for various reasons including the prevalence of harmful social norms and traditional practices.
Chhaupadi is an example of this. Whilst the practice of banishing menstruating women or girls to mud huts or sheds for the duration of their period was made illegal in Nepal in 2005, it is still practiced in some communities. The story of Durga below, a Big Sister from the project shows the barriers many girls still face, including Chhaupadi, but also the empowering opportunities which emerge once a girl can access an education.
“I live in Ranighat, in the western belt of Surkhet district. Just a few years ago most of the houses in my community usto have chhaugoth – small mud huts where we were made to sleep during menstruation. Through freezing winters and sweltering summers, I would stay inside for four days or more. On those days I was ”impure”, and couldn’t step foot in the house or perform any of the regular household activities".
“The hut didn’t have even windows or locks, but it might as well have been a prison. The hut was so "tiny I could barely fit and the floor was so damp and dirty I couldn’t sleep in comfort. One time I had such pain I couldn’t stay in the shed. But my father-in-law wouldn’t even let me step in the courtyard. My biggest fear was sexual assault at nights or an attack from wild animals or snakes".
“I vowed to never let this happen to my daughter. She’s 16-years old now. When she got her first period, I let her sleep in her own bed and fed her all the food she needed. But this was not an overnight change – I had to first challenge my own family’s belief and the blind faith of my community towards this practice. I found the courage and knowledge that I needed when I got an opportunity to be a Big Sister".
“Volunteering as a Big Sister helped me learn to advocate and persuade. We were trained to influence the community to help our girls stay in school. This included mentoring, life skills, sexual and reproductive health and rights, child protection, making sanitary pads and communicating their proper use. Ending the tradition of chhaupadi has been one of our main goals".
“At first, people were against me and the other Big Sisters who were working on this. Then two girls were raped when they were kept in chaugoth. After that, we made our campaign stronger and more visible. Our slogan was to be “a village free of chhaupadi”. As a member of the ward, I raised a strong voice in the committee. They agreed to not provide any service to the families that had chhaugoth. This helped to demolish the tradition. Now, more and more often the local chhaugoths have been replaced by separate rooms inside the home for girls who are menstruating. Untouchability is still being practiced. During menstruation time, girls still often miss their classes due to lack of water and sanitation facilities in the school. But changes are happening".
“Through Sisters’ for Sisters we organise community dialogues bringing people together and creating a platform where people can discuss taboos on menstruation and other harmful practices. We organise street drama to help people reflect on what they’ve been doing to girls".
“We have also been providing orientation on Menstruation Hygiene Management to girls. We teach them how to use of sanitary pads and we installed sanitary pad vending machines to empower young girls and women in the community. We even got a grant of 50,000 NPR to get sanitary pads for girls into two schools in our rural municipality. That’s real change".
Sisters for Sisters' project is part of the UK Aid funded Girls’ Education Challenge, the world’s largest global fund dedicated to girls’ education, supporting up to 1.5m marginalised girls with access to education and learning across 17 countries. The project is led by VSO with implementing partners Global Action Nepal and Aasaman Nepal in Surkhet, Lamjung, Dhading and Parsa districts of Nepal. British Council and Mercy Corps also serve as collaboration and resource partners on the project.