Helping Women and Building Infrastructure in Nepal

An infrastructure project in Nepal gives women a chance to earn much needed cash incomes by offering job opportunities usually considered 'men's work.'

 

Dhobi, Nepal ─ Uneducated and illiterate, 20-year-old Geeta Khadka has had few chances in life. The resident of Dhobi, a remote mountain village in eastern Nepal, comes from a very poor family and lives in an area with few economic opportunities.

When a project started in her area to build a community medical clinic, she was surprised to find out that she could apply to work as a laborer on the construction site, a job usually reserved for men.

"They said they would hire a man or a lady, whoever could do the work. They gave us the same chance to work as men and we are paid the same amount as men. This is an opportunity for me to learn a skill and improve my life."

─ Geeta Khadka, construction worker in Dhobi, Nepal

Today, working on the site doing simple construction tasks, she is learning from more experienced workers. The money she earns helps support her parents and brother, and she is proud to be involved in a project that benefits her community.

"They said they would hire a man or a lady, whoever could do the work," she says. "They gave us the same chance to work as men and we are paid the same amount as men. This is an opportunity for me to learn a skill and improve my life."

Beyond infrastructure

The construction site where Khadka works is part of the Decentralized Rural Infrastructure and Livelihood Project, which was supported by an ADB loan of $40 million, approved in 2004. The project is being administered by the Department of Local Infrastructure Development and Agricultural Roads.

The project was designed to reduce rural poverty in 18 conflict-affected, remote, hill and mountain districts and to increase access to economic opportunities and social services. The primary focus of the project is to enhance the social and financial capital of the poor, marginalized ethnic minorities, and women. These beneficiaries are estimated to make up 70% of the project area population.

The project emphasizes the broader goals of community involvement and support for livelihood restoration activities, rather that simply focusing on infrastructure development.

Women in rural areas of Nepal are particularly affected by the lack of infrastructure. Living in remote areas with limited roads constrains women’s ability to market produce, use health and education services, find employment, obtain clean water, collect fuel wood, and travel to district centers.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many men have migrated to urban areas or other countries seeking employment, leaving women to manage their families’ subsistence food production and basic needs. The project addresses both of these challenges, providing vital rural infrastructure and employing women as laborers.

"About 11% of the families in the project area are headed by women and 63% of the rest have family members, mainly men, who have migrated for employment. The opportunity to work as a day laborer is very valuable for poor women in these remote districts."

─ Suman Subba, ADB social development officer

Getting on without men

"About 11% of the families in the project area are headed by women and 63% of the rest have family members, mainly men, who have migrated for employment," says Suman Subba, a social development officer with ADB’s Nepal Resident Mission. "The opportunity to work as a day laborer is very valuable for poor women in these remote districts."

The project included a detailed gender action plan that supported recruitment of project-based gender specialists at all levels, as well as systematic monitoring. Women were offered equal opportunities in project-related investments and worked with equal pay on construction sites.

The project also supported women’s community groups, savings and credit activities, and training to boost women’s skills, confidence, and opportunities for income generation.

In the village of Dhobi, the project requires that 40% of all workers on the infrastructure initiatives it finances be women. That target has been exceeded, with women making up 43% of workers.

One of them is Laxmi Tamang, a 22-year-old resident of the village, who saw her friends and relatives get jobs on similar projects and decided to apply. She suffers from hearing loss and had to drop out of school due to poverty. She has never had a job before, but was given training before she started on the construction site. Now, she moves rocks and breaks stones—the simplest labor on the job site.

"It is difficult work but I enjoy it," Tamang says. "If I didn’t have this work, I would just stay at home and earn nothing to help my family."