Empowering Women: Fostering Collective Action in Nepalese Cooperatives

Collective action has been a fundamental aspect of human society for centuries. However, it has emerged as a prevalent mode of achieving common goals, particularly in the contemporary world. This resulted in the rise of social movements, labor unions, institutions, and advocacy groups that were fighting against exploitation and discrimination. As a concept, collective action refers to the ability of individuals or groups to work together to achieve a goal or enhance a condition by addressing common problems. This approach is particularly pertinent in the least developed countries like Nepal, where women in rural areas continue to face significant challenges. Despite these obstacles, the government has intensified its efforts to empower women, particularly those who are vulnerable, by prioritizing them in various projects and programs.

However, entrenched patriarchal structures persist in rural areas, exacerbating the oppression experienced by women and impeding their access to economic opportunities. Furthermore, women are often taught to relinquish control to men from a young age, perpetuating a culture of acquiescence. These structural barriers limit women’s participation in the decision-making process and hinder their ability to fully realize their rights and potential. In response to these challenges, concerted efforts are needed to dismantle patriarchal norms and promote gender equality through grassroots movements, community initiatives, and policy interventions. Thus, fostering collective action among various stakeholders like government agencies, civil society organizations, and local communities among others, is pivotal in achieving sustainable progress in advancing women’s rights and enhancing their socio-economic well-being.

In 2013, Oxfam published a report highlighting the critical roles played by government, NGOs, international donors, and farmer networks in promoting collective action in African countries such as Mali, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. These collaborative efforts have notably enhanced the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, particularly marginalized women. The key strategies include institutional advocacy, support, and the establishment of policy frameworks. Cooperatives have shown resilience by achieving common goals in their community during crises. For instance, savings and credit cooperatives in East Africa, Southeast Asia, and South Asia have empowered women to manage enterprises providing a platform to discover their potentials and achieve financial independence, especially during the pandemic. Similarly, women’s cooperatives in Nepal are gaining momentum and have made considerable progress in the last decade. The collective action experiences of these cooperatives have underscored the importance of developing rules and norms as well as enhancing the interaction among stakeholders.
Developing rules and norms

In Nepal, it is important to examine the current state of cooperatives, especially on how these organizations have sustained their operations. For instance, several women’s cooperatives in the Kathmandu Valley (Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Kirtipur), have developed their own rules and norms expressed through their practices, guidelines, and individual roles. Also, these associations follow internal rules based on official government-mandated regulations. These rules and norms are integral to its self-governance and operational efficiency. Furthermore, these practices have influenced the interactions among its members, directly affecting the organization’s ability to manage its resources, streamline its decision-making process, and ensure positive outcomes. 

Interaction among stakeholders

With access to necessary resources and programs, women’s cooperatives can foster good relationships with local bodies and community members while earning their trust and respect. Also, their assistance is sought by authorities in organizing community activities such as health camps and awareness campaigns. Moreover, gender-specific programs for women-led cooperatives are essential in maintaining motivation and enhancing relationships among its members. By joining these programs, individuals can acquire valuable skills and knowledge while creating a sense of community within the cooperative network. Also, these programs offer opportunities for developing linkages, sharing experiences, and building relationships that can enhance the overall success and impact of the organization. 

Consequently, women who actively engage in cooperatives often lead to better economic outcomes for their household, improved leadership capacities and create opportunities to contribute to the development of their communities. I believe that these unique qualities can enable women to become agents of change in their families and communities.

Overall, these collective action experiences have shown that cooperatives in Nepal are instrumental in empowering women. Several organizations have developed norms and interaction practices that allow for the sharing of common struggles, fostering a sense of solidarity, trust, and unity. The proper mainstreaming of these qualities can enhance governance, facilitate collaboration and decision-making. It also aims to ensure that the outcomes are consistent with the interests and values of the community. Thus, it is crucial for the government to identify and leverage these traits and ensure that these qualities are consistent with national development goals.

[Photo by Lindsey Maya, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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