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Darj, Sikkim get credit for East Nepal women empowerment

Manas R Bannerjee | Siliguri |

The level of women empowerment in Eastern Nepal is very high, as compared to other parts of the neighbouring country, while people there, including the powers that be, believe that both Darjeeling and Sikkim in India played a key role in developing womenfolk there.

Around 40 per cent women in Eastern Nepal are playing leadership roles when it comes to sectors like hospitality management, while they are engaged in different activities and business, including trekking and home-stays, while also showcasing their tradition and culture like folk songs, dance and music.

Nepal Tourism Board’s (NTB) records show that 7 to 10 percent women are involved in the trekking industry in the region that borders the states of West Bengal, Bihar and Sikkim.

“Women empowerment in Eastern Nepal is very high, and influence from nearby Darjeeling and Sikkim, especially when it comes to education for womenfolk, played a vital role in this,” a senior manager of the NTB, Suman Ghimire, said. “Tourism is sustainable here as women are involved in it.

They have successfully been able to preserve their culture and traditions too, which are very important for tourism,” he added. Significantly, some women like to wear the ‘Hare Mala,’ a traditional chain of 101 coins of Nepal, and the garland is a symbol of unity among a group of women who have formed a cooperative society by forming self-help groups for employment generation, said an officer associated with the NTB.

However, despite such advancement of women in Dharan in Eastern Nepal, where the British government had set up a big camp for recruitment of Nepalis in the British Army, a Dharan-based investor in the tourism industry, Basudev Baral, had to face a lot of problems in introducing a new concept in the tourism sector.

Mr Baral, associated with Sechha Hotel there, wanted to train and form a team of ‘Girl Guides’ for tourists who visit Dharan town, unofficially called the ‘blue city.’ The idea was to have the girls guide the tourist as they visit some religious places and temples like the Pindeshwar Shiva temple, Dant Kali temple, Shaktipith, and other tourist sites in adjoining areas, on scooters.

“A section of the girls’ parents were unhappy about it and they feared that tourists would take selfies on their mobile phones with those girls and upload them on social media,” Mr Baral said. However, a few girls finally came forward and they have started working as guides in Dharan.

Of them, Nilam Khadka, 25, a sales representative, students Isha Shrestha, 21, and Durga Magar, 19, took part in the East Tourism Mart- 2018 held in Dharan from 7 June. Notably, Alina Magar, the chairman of Aatma Nirbhar Savings and Credit Co-operative, trains and leads the girls.

Durga, the daughter of a farmer, is nearing completion of diploma in Culinary Arts from an institution there. “This is my part time job. I am interested in cooking. I want to become a good chef, but my dream is to move to Paris and establish myself as a teacher in Culinary Arts,” she said.

Mr Baral, meanwhile, said that in eastern Nepal, the participation of women in every sector was poor earlier. “Women did not have the knowledge about tourism, but the good thing is that the trend has changed,” he said.

“I must admit that women in Darjeeling and Sikkim who are involved in the tourism sector have taught our women the tricks of the trade, while they have helped their empowerment here,” Mr Baral added.