COVID-19 disproportionately impacts women and girls.
Reduced access to protective services, higher rates of unemployment, and a greater burden of domestic duties leave women at greater risk of violence, privately and publicly.
In April 2020, data from the United Nations Population Fund predicted at least
15 million more cases of domestic violence globally this year, as a result of pandemic restrictions.
Stress on families has risen, while freedom of movement and privacy have decreased, leaving women already experiencing violence in their home particularly vulnerable.
Here in Australia, new data from the NSW Government suggests that domestic violence has risen, with a 10% increase in access to support services in March.
In Nepal, despite 1 in 4 women experiencing emotional, physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, reports of gender-based violence to the police have dropped drastically since lockdown. Disturbingly, this suggests women are struggling to access help, with loss of funding and disruption to support services.
Namaste our friends - how are you?
What a question in this unbelievable time. It goes without saying, we’re all adjusting to a new kind of normal. We hope you and your families are staying healthy, navigating the anxiety, confusion and enormity of COVID-19 and finding some social solidarity in the isolation.
We’re concerned for our colleagues and friends in Nepal, who like us, are working out how to move forward. Nepal has only 2 confirmed cases, but some say this number reflects a lack of tests. There is a strict stay-at-home order in place, with schools, businesses and government offices closed and domestic and international flights grounded.
Nepal has also closed its land borders with India and China. When one of our co-founders, Sarah, left Nepal over a week ago there were already queues for petrol, gas and cooking oil, with fear of fuel and food shortages, much of which comes from India and China.
The women and girls and our colleagues at our partner, Asha Nepal, are all healthy. They have closed the office and are continuing to support the family care homes and families in the community with the team working from home where possible. The family care homes are well stocked with food, toiletries and basic medical care. Asha has purchased induction heating stoves in anticipation of a shortage in cooking gas. With schools closed, the family care mothers are considering creative ways to make the time productive and not too disruptive for the girls. They have been reading, cooking together, playing indoor games, doing art and watching movies.
These are heartbreaking times for so many and especially for already fragile communities. For those already vulnerable from violence and precarious livelihoods, unable to rely on an affordable or adequate healthcare system, COVID-19 will be devastating. There are no stimulus packages in Nepal.
It’s also a testing time for our global community and the shared connections we have built across cultures and borders, as we, by necessity, turn to our here and now.
After a cooking class with one of our groups in Nepal last year, Mina*, who along with a number of the family based care mothers have set up a catering business, said
“I felt really joyful while conducting the cooking class."
So in the spirit of finding joy where we can and remembering we are part of a global community, the Project Didi team have decided to cook a number of the mothers’ recipes.
We’ve shared a recipe below, so we hope you’ll join in our Nepali feast and find joy in the food and connection to our didis in Nepal.
Mixed Vegetable Curry
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Happy International Women’s Day!
A day to recognise and celebrate the achievements of women globally. To mark the occasion we caught up with Kusum, who is part of the management team at our partner organisation, Asha Nepal to learn a bit more about herself and Asha's commitment to improving the lives of women and girls, survivors of trafficking and abuse.
What inspires you about the work you do?
After receiving my Bachelor degree I worked as a literacy teacher in an NGO, where I first met girls who had survived trafficking. This experience gave me a deep commitment to help.
These women and girls have experienced so much, return to communities where they face stigma and yet they come together and have the confidence to support others and work hard to build better lives for themselves. They are so hard working, planning ahead to make their life well again. Their will power, that inspires me.
I have now worked in the sector for 7 years.
How does gender inequality make women and girls vulnerable?
Girls are born into this world but they aren’t given preference within the family and they are always understood as only temporary. A girl can never think of herself. When she is born she has to think of her family, then her husband’s family and after that she has to look up to her son and depend upon him.
We expanded our trips offering two new opportunities to travel to Nepal
We were thrilled to partner with Fernwood Tuggeranong, a female gym and health club in Canberra, to run a trip in March. We ran our first Women Empowering Women trip with nine women from across Australia. These trips provide valuable funding for critical care for survivors of trafficking and abuse, but they also are an opportunity for our community to gain an understanding of Nepal and the complexities facing women and girls through meeting Nepali community leaders, artisans and entrepreneurs. Travel with us in 2020! Read more about our trips over on our blog & sign up below to be the first to know about this year's trip.
We continued our strong partnerships in Nepal
We're proud to mark 5 years in our partnership with Asha Nepal. We supported the development of the growth of the women-led catering program with new women undertaking training. The women also landed a catering booking for a 5-day local government training session for over 30 people! Both our women's trips to Nepal enjoyed cooking alongside the women in their homes.
It’s been a week since we waved goodbye to these 9 brilliant women who joined us on our women empowering women trip, making it the 7th trip we’ve taken to Nepal.
We’re grateful that they chose to travel this way. Through the trip's contribution to our work in Nepal and through the women-led organisations we support through our tourism, the trip opens opportunities for women and girls, who have experienced adversity, discrimination, trafficking and violence.
But who is empowering who? It is our intention that it goes both ways, that the trips are a shared learning experience.
You can think of it a bit like Nepal’s roads where everything and everyone is going all directions (with the occasional cow added into the mix!). Despite the different destinations, the shared journey is the fun bit!
Emerging unscathed from the Nepali traffic, here's what we learnt on our most recent trip.
“Amazing”, “spectacular,” and “sensational” were just a few of the words our Fernwood Tuggeranong trekking group used to describe their recent trip to Nepal with us.
Seeing Everest, learning to cook a traditional Nepali dinner and experiencing first hand the work being done to support survivors of trafficking and abuse were just some highlights.
We were blessed with perfect weather and the adventure kicked off with a trek along the first leg of the Everest Base Camp trek where the group got a taste of village life in remote areas of Nepal, spent a day in the traditional Sherpa trading centre of Namche Bazaar, and saw spectacular views of the Himalayas, including Everest and Lhotse.
Most had never travelled to Nepal and many hadn’t trekked, overcoming personal challenges they never thought possible, such as a fear of flying in small planes (we flew into Lukla to start the trek), walking along suspension bridges and completing a relatively challenging trek.
Back in Kathmandu the group spent time at our local partner, learning about the issues of trafficking and abuse in Nepal and the work being done to support survivors. We were also treated to a traditional Nepali lunch prepared by the team at our partner. Delicious!
The following day the group learnt how to cook a traditional Nepali dinner of dahl baht and vegetable curry in our partner's family based care homes, small family units for children who have survived trafficking or abuse with a mother who is a survivor herself. The cooking class is a recent Project Didi initiative to provide income generation opportunities for the mothers. A visit to the home also allowed the group to see first hand the positive impact family based care has for survivors. Read more about our family based care.
Other highlights included tours of the UNESCO World heritage Bouddhanath, Durbar Square and the Ason Tole markets in Kathmandu.
The tour was a huge success and judging by the feedback enjoyed by all - so much so that plans are already underway for another Fernwood Tuggeranong tour next year!
We would like to thank Fernwood Tuggeranong and the participants for making the trip so enjoyable and memorable, enabling us to raised funds to continue our work in Nepal and most importantly raise awareness of the issue of trafficking.
Words & images: Leonie Keogh, Project Didi co-founder and Board Member
Almost every day in Nepal is a celebration! From the Buddhist New Year Lhosar, to Hindu festivals worshiping Gods and Goddesses for prosperity, marital happiness, the triumph of good over evil and even to protect against snakebites, Nepal's festivals reflect its diversity and vibrant culture. We asked our fantastic volunteer, Sabina Maharjan a Kathmandu born, Canberra local, to tell us about the significance of Nepal's festivals.
Today is Shri Panchami. This auspicious day is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning. Most Hindus observe this day as highly significant in their journey of learning.
Most people are aware that Deepawali is significant for worshiping Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity and Dashain is significant for worshiping Goddess Durga, the goddess of power and valor. Similarly, Shri Panchami is significant for paying respect to the Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. Shri Panchami is also widely known as Basanta Panchami, marking the beginning of spring, offering relief after a harsh winter.
Growing up, Shri Panchami was a very important day in my childhood. I believed that if I worshipped the Goddess with due diligence on this day, I would become wiser and more knowledgeable. I would visit Saraswati temples with my friends early in the morning with high hopes of receiving the holy blessing.
Although I am now a grown up, I am still keen to learn something new everyday. I hope to learn from my surroundings and the environment I live in, and from every person I interact with. We are all always hoping for something or the other, and it is this very emotion that keeps us motivated and determined.
Sabina in beautiful Nepalese dress.
A very Happy New Year to you!
When I started Project Didi, with Fiona and Leonie, 5 years ago I couldn’t have imagined that we would have as full and bright a year as 2018. I am proud of many highlights with the women and girls we support. I’d like to share some with you.
But first I’d like to say a sincere thank you. Please share in my pride, as we couldn’t have reached 2019 without you and your commitment to making the world a better place.
My year started with a wonderfully warm welcome from our partner at Samunnat Nepal. I had a week at this dynamic organisation of inspiring, talented and dedicated women. My lasting impression is of a vibrant community supporting survivors of violence and an entrepreneurial spirit that has created jewellery making, a tailoring shop, a childcare centre, organic gardening and pickle making. Incomes, independence and a future for many!
We believe education transforms women, their families and communities and creates generational change. It's our priority girls get a basic schooling, have the opportunity to catch up on missed schooling and have access to further training. My best memory this year, is when 5 women, survivors of violence, gained certificates in Food Handling and Hygiene, now proudly displayed on their kitchen walls. They are working together building their catering business and cooking classes, making small steps towards an income generating success story. The smiles as they work, and receive endless compliments on their dishes (the veg curry is a winner!), are part of that success.
Our Youth to Youth Program, our seventh, was again a highlight. 16 students from St Catherine's School Sydney, joined 25 students from our partner, Asha, in a week of peer-to-peer learning, fun and friendship. The program continued the theme of positive psychology which we all benefited from. The Nepali cooking was a success and the soccer game decisively won by team Nepal! I'm in awe of how the students, Australian and Nepali, own and manage this week and grow through new challenges, experiences and understanding. I believe it changes lives.
Since the closure, 2 years ago, of the residential home at Asha which provided care in an institutional setting (now widely documented as detrimental to children’s wellbeing), I'm proud our priority has been family care. With your generous contributions to our recent crowdfunding, we are able to continue supporting our "family" of 6 girls and housemother, Binsa, into 2019. In addition to rent, education, counselling and health care, our support includes music and dance classes, sport and the celebration of birthdays and festivals, the important stuff of childhood and family life. The girls recently marked the holidays with their first exciting visit to a water park.
We’re committed to working with the girls’ biological families towards reintegration and we’re proud to say, after a long and sensitive process, one of Binsa's girls, Hasri, has successfully reintegrated with her biological mother.
In Australia, our wonderful community came together to learn more and speak out about trafficking, gender inequality and child rights. We held screenings of SOLD, which we have now taken across Australia, a panel event with modern slavery experts and our #SomethingForSlavery challenge. A special thank you to the volunteers whose energy and hard work made these events happen!
We were thrilled with the passing of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act. The Act makes Australia the first country to recognise orphanage trafficking as a form of modern slavery. Children, in Nepal who in many cases still have one or both parents, are recruited into and, in many cases, exploited in orphanages to attract volunteers and donors, many from Australia. This Act will raise awareness of the vital need for the type of family care for vulnerable children we provide and will bring us closer to ending slavery.
I am excited about the year ahead. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be in Nepal working with our partner on a new project. I’m also looking forward to getting to know the 15 ladies from Fernwood Gym Tuggeranong on our trek later in the Everest region. They will meet our partners, enjoy their cooking and learn about our work in Nepal.
On behalf of the Project Didi team, our partners and the women and girls in Nepal, a huge heartfelt thank you to the many of you who have been on this journey with us over the years and also to our many new and very valued supporters.
We can't do it without you.
All the best for a happy, healthy and light filled 2019.
Names of the women and girls in Nepal are changed to protect identities.
This year, the United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence calls on us to unite to break the silence on violence against women.
United under the Hashtag #HearMeToo survivors ask their communities to listen and stand with them when they speak up against one of the world’s greatest human rights violations.
For Human Rights Day, the last day of the 16 Days, we spoke with our housemother, Binsa*, a survivor, an advocate and an important role model and attachment figure for young girls.
Binsa, you are currently caring for 6 girls who have survived trafficking and abuse. The youngest just turned 10 years. What motivates you to do what you do?
I’m a mother to six children coming from different cultural and backgrounds. Seeing the world through their eyes gives me the opportunity to learn new things every day. Their stories are different and caring for them I realise that the work I do is important. What I like most is listening to them and their stories and answering the many questions they have. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction.
What are your hopes for the futures of the girls?
Like every mother, I hope that they will learn new things, study hard and live a happy life. Additionally, I hope they will be able to talk about their experience and problems openly with the important people in their life. I hope they will grow up to become caring and helpful individuals who find their way back to their families and lead a happy life.
What is the one important change needed for women in Nepal?
In my opinion, the traditional Nepali way of remaining quiet and enduring everything has weakened women’s position and exposed them to violence. Also, there is this belief that men are superior to women and women should always feel subordinate to men. If I can change one thing, I will change the way women see themselves, make them realise that they are strong and equal to men.
*Name changed to protect identity.
Author: Sabine Keller
What does your family do to celebrate special occasions?
For Mother’s Day last year, Binsa’s family surprised her. Her daughters hid little notes all over the house with what they loved about her - in the laundry, near the front door and even in the rice cooker.
The Project Didi family also has reason to celebrate - next year will mark three years of providing family based care to women and girls, who have experienced trafficking and abuse, in Nepal.
Through our local partner, we support Binsa, a survivor herself, to provide a safe home for her biological daughter and five other girls. Three years on and the girls are rebuilding their lives.
Urmila, the oldest at 17, has taken the role of big sister in her stride. She helps Binsa with the household chores and leads by example, raising her worries openly with her mother, something she wouldn’t have done when she first joined the home. Sofi, since her beginnings in the home as shy and anxious, has gained enormous confidence. She’s making friends and working hard at school. She just passed her mid-term test with flying colours!
Ditya was recently reintegrated into the community and is living in a small flat close by the home. She’s been busy – completing her schooling and interning at a local police station as part of a paralegal training program. She said hearing the experiences of violence other women have faced through her internship has made her feel less alone in her own experiences. She stays in touch with our local partner and drops by their centre for career coaching sessions. She’s thinking about what’s next – a law degree or maybe a job as a police woman helping other girls. She’s one to watch!
We’re really proud to have supported our local partner to make this transition to family based care from residential care. So, what’s the difference?
Family based care, when well supported and delivered, provides the individualised, consistent care children need. It values the whole individual, helping girls thrive with counselling, life skills development, schooling, sport and social activities, vocational training and career coaching - all part of our local partner’s program.
Family based care allows girls to be girls - ones who love Bollywood movies, dancing and hair braids.
It also provides a role model in Binsa. She models healthy relationships, open communication and resilience. She builds trust and self-confidence.
While family based care is often the best alternative, it can’t replace a child’s biological family. Our priority is always to keep families together. Where this is not possible, our local partner works closely with a girl’s family, while she is in care, towards reintegration. We’re proud to say that one of Binsa’s girls was reintegrated with her mother this year.
Three years of family based care has only been possible with generosity of the Project Didi community.
Help us to continue supporting Binsa’s home on our crowdfunding campaign. We’ve got lots of amazing perks (for the whole family!) to make your donation a little sweeter!
All names have been changed to protect identities.
Artwork by the very talented Emma Van Veen.
Author: Clare Bartram