April, 5 2012
Due to Uniterra’s strong commitment to gender equality and with the support of Canadian volunteer Astrid Dier, a promising experiment of establishing a women-only dairy cooperative is being implemented in Laliptur district.
Kathmandu, Feb. 22nd 2012
In September 2010, Astrid Dier landed in Kathmandu with her husband and her two daughters. As a Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Advisor for CECI and Uniterra program, part of her two-year mandate consisted of facilitating women’s and indigenous groups’ representation and participation in the male-and-Brahmin / Chhetri-dominated dairy cooperatives of Lalitpur district, a mountainous area south of the capital. In spite of her background in education and gender and development studies, this mandate represented an undeniable challenge for her: “Working with the dairy sector was new for me”, she says. “I first had to do field visits to understand the situation.”
She quickly found out that in Lalitpur district, like in the rest of Nepal, women play an important and active role in the dairy sector: they cut grass, collect fodder, milk cows and take care of the livestock. However, they usually remain under-represented in the membership, trainings, meetings and executive committees of the dairy cooperatives. While they generally assume non-paid house-related chores, men usually have access to and control over the income and the decision-making processes.
In order to address this pattern of inequality, in 2011 Astrid started developing a GESI-responsive two-year work plan in partnership with the general and executive members of Lalitpur District Milk Producers’ Cooperative Union (DMPCU). This was a completely new activity for the Union. “We were not used to prioritizing participation of women before. Mostly men used to participate”, explains Lalitpur DMPCU’s chairperson Krishna Sapkota. “CECI has been the first organization to encourage us in increasing women's participation”.
Drafting the work plan proved to be a delicate task to carry out. “We wanted the women to play a larger role in the cooperatives”, remembers Astrid, “but at the same time, we did not want to increase women’s burden of work, so we tried to look at the problem holistically, promoting an equitable distribution of labor between men and women.”
Ultimately, one of the key ideas that came out of this collaboration was to set up a model women-only dairy cooperative in the district. A group of women from the village of Sankhu was quick to express their interest in such a project. Impressed by their determination to improve their livelihood and to prove that women can do as well as men if they get the opportunity, Lalitpur DMPCU decided to support them. They provided the women with cooperative education training, meetings with experienced producers and exposure visits. Gradually, the community members’ skepticism and the women’s lack of experience in institutional leadership and management both decreased. On June 15th 2011, a brand new women-only cooperative was established: The Model Village’s Women Milk Producers Cooperative Ltd.
Nowadays, after only few months of activity, the new entity can already present many achievements. It collects around 300 liters of milk daily, generates a minimum gross monthly profit of about 5000 NRS and benefits 27 general members. Moreover, it offers a saving and a loan program and employs one woman for collecting and measuring milk, testing fat, cleaning the cans and keeping the records.
Interestingly, Sankhu’s women report many positive changes in their lives. They can now rely on a greater income to run their household and have a greater control over the family income. They have also developed new leadership skills and knowledge about dairy cooperative management and their self-confidence has improved tremendously.
In addition, their relations with men became more equitable. Men are now more likely to let women participate in trainings and meetings. They even started supporting women with household chores. As a result, women can now participate more easily in community-level activities and feel more respected than before.
Of course, some challenges still need to be addressed. The cooperative does not have its own building, office, computer and furniture, and the women still face a lack of capital, leadership skills and veterinary services. However, by organizing more training, exposure visits and economic empowerment projects, Lalitpur DMPCU executive members and Sankhu’s women are confident that those challenges will eventually be overcome.
In fact, due to the successful establishment of the women-only dairy cooperative, attitudes have evolved significantly regarding women’s and disadvantaged groups’ role in Lalitpur dairy sector. According to Uddhav Ghimire, Manager of Lalitpur DMPCU, this project opened new perspectives: “At first we thought it might be difficult to change the current situation, but we realized that it is possible if we try. The formation of this dairy cooperative has inspired us.”
For her part, Astrid Dier is satisfied to see what her volunteer contribution could bring to Lalitpur’s women so far: “It’s interesting to see all the changes that have taken place over the last year and a half. I am really impressed by the commitment of the DMPCU and the women of Lalitpur. There is still a lot to do, but I feel that I could develop good relationships in Lalitpur and I am optimistic about the future.”