This Nepali Activist Is Trying to Make the World Gender Friendly
“To many I am seen as an unmarried woman who works in a man’s world and can’t cook.”
Growing up in Nepal, Poonam Ghimire realized from an early age that her opportunities were limited.
Throughout the country, just 66% of girls are able to attend secondary school oftentimes because of illiteracy, poverty ,and sometimes due to cultural taboos in rural areas. Girls also face inequality, child marriage, forced labor, and mental and physical violence, Ghimire said.
And through the tradition known as Chhaupadi in some parts of the country, many girls are banished to sheds during menstruation. Stranded in poorly insulated spaces, they sometimes get raped, freeze to death, and die from lack of nutrition.
Fortunately, Ghimire’s parents encouraged her to break gender boundaries and she took their advice.
“I grew up seeing social, cultural, economic, and political inequalities of the society but both my parents always encouraged me towards gender equality so I always opposed inequality in society,” she told Global Citizen.
At age 11, she wrote, staged, and directed a play that explored gender inequalities in schools and called for greater inclusion.
It was performed in the streets by local people and was so popular that it launched her career as an advocate.
Ghimire began organizing her friends and advocating for gender equality. UNICEF Voices of Youth soon enlisted her to write blogs on the issues she cared about, gaining her an international profile.
Eventually, Ghimire studied forestry in university where she learned that gender inequality and climate change are intertwined.
Climate change primarily affects girls and woman because it leads to higher incidents of child marriage when communities get displaced, harms small-scale farmers, and the disasters it creates prevent girls from going to school.
Conversely, two of the most effective ways to fight climate change empower women—providing birth control to women so they can control their sexual health and educating girls because they become better able to find climate solutions.
Since launching her career as an advocate, Ghimire has continued to face inequality, even though the country has been making strides.
"I’m a woman who has dreams, aspirations and, most importantly, a voice," she said.
This focus on her career has sometimes had to take a backseat to on-the-ground humanitarian work.
In 2015, Nepal was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which devastated infrastructure throughout the country and endangered the educations of thousands of girls.
Ghimire was on the frontlines of the recovery effort, volunteering with Association of Youth Organizations of Nepal (AYON). The recovery effort still continues and she is still taking actions for earthquake recovery.
Beyond this humanitarian work, she teaches youth leaders about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and organizes youth training seminars to help start environmental clubs around the country.
While campaigning, she inevitably encounters other pressing issues and her focus expands.
For example, just 37% of people in Nepal have access to quality sanitation systems, which exposes them to a host of water-borne illnesses such as cholera.
Like climate change, water and sanitation problems primarily affect girls and women, who are often tasked with collecting water and suffer from a lack of ways for handling menstruation.
Ghimire has been working to address these disparities in recent years by preparing research papers on solid waste management and studying sustainable solid waste management techniques in the world. She’s also collecting data on air pollution in the regions she travels to and also promotes sustainable agriculture, hosts climate change poetry contests, and organizes book drives.
She’s also collecting data on air pollution in the regions she travels to, where she promotes sustainable agriculture, hosts climate change poetry contests, and organizes book drives.
If it seems like Ghimire is restless in her work — well, she’s part of a group called Restless Development, which leverages the power of youth to fight issues surrounding poverty.
That’s how she became connected to Global Citizen.
Two years ago, Ghimire traveled to New York to take part in the Global Citizen Youth Advocates Symposium, where she collaborated with young leaders from around the world and learned useful skills for how to lobby governments and enact change.
Since then, she’s doubled down on her work back home.
“There is a huge population fighting to break all the above segregated barriers and make the world gender neutral,” she wrote on her blog. “They are doing all this to help future generations like yours lead a comfortable life in a world where gender inequality is no longer a stigma.”
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