Neha Shrestha is 22 years old. Thanks to the ENERGIA and Centre for Rural Technology Nepal Women’s Economic Empowerment project, she was able to pursue her dream. Now, she owns a beauty parlour shop in Sindhuli district, Nepal.
Life goes really fast in some parts of the world. But not in the Sindhuli valley, Nepal, where inhabitants follow the light rhythm and the eternal cycle of day and night. The sun is still hidden behind the immense, green hills of the Valley but women in the small villages are already at work. Some of them are washing dishware at the water fountain of the town, closed in on themselves and lost in their thoughts, while others are preparing the typical Dal Bath -steamed rice and a cooked lentil soup- for the upcoming day in rooms filled with smoke caused by traditional cooking practices. In the town of Sindhuli however, where life is slightly more modern, Neha Shrestha is getting ready for another working day at her beauty parlour shop. While telling her story, she finds it hard to believe she did it.
Being a woman in Nepal
Being a woman in Nepal is not as easy. Since early age, girls are forced to help their mothers in the kitchen and in agriculture field. Parents rather prefer to have their daughters at home, instead of supporting them pursuing their education. Women and girls are often confined to unpaid work activities. According to the Nepal Living Standards Survey 2011, women spend most of their time cooking and serving food, fetching water, assisting children, cleaning houses and collecting fodder. Despite their role as household managers, women are under-represented in the decision-making process, and they lag far behind men in all aspects of life. Moreover, lack of access to energy services exacerbate their poverty condition. But 22 years old Neha Shrestha has not been held back by traditional and cultural barriers.
A dream coming true
Neha is the proud owner of a beauty parlour shop. “My parents opened a meat shop many years ago and when I asked for their support, they refused at first. A beauty parlour is linked to the profession of a barber, which is the job of the lowest caste”, recalls Neha. Her parents were worried about her future, and entrenched social norms are difficult to be broken down in Nepal. However, her huge determination and business aspiration have helped her to follow her dream, despite the social and financial barriers. She enthusiastically joined ENERGIA and CRT-Nepal’s Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE), which supports women like her to start and grow their businesses. The programme also works towards creating an enabling environment, by supporting women through trainings, access to finance and technical assistance. These help entrepreneurs to develop the skills they need to run businesses, overall contributing to greater gender equality and women’s leadership in the community.
Following her studies, Neha attended a CTEVT (Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training) certified course beauty parlour level 1 and the TOSE (Training of Starting Entrepreneurs) training. During these trainings she learned about marketing and how to run and to expand a business. In Kathmandu, she finally received her diploma as a beauty parlour and she came back to Sindhuli. “The beginning phase has been very hard. Women are usually poor and socially excluded. Gender inequalities are profound and women don’t have equal opportunities to achieve development. I was scared about my abilities and the social pressure from my community”. When Neha came back to Sindhuli, she invested 100,000 NPR loaned by her parents and borrowed another 200,000 NPR from a cooperative for loans and savings, at 16% interest. The WEE training expert visited her during the initial phase of the business to strengthen her growth strategies and motivate her role as agent of change in the productive use of energy.
“We can build our own future”
Thanks to the new technologies she has adopted and a wider access to electricity, she has a big clientele and earns enough to pay for her rent and expenses. She is the only person in the whole district who uses electrical appliances, which include an electrical facial machine, a dryer, an electric wax heater, a styling iron, and a curling iron. Her new role as business-woman has helped her to become economically independent and to gain social respect. “We live in a patriarchal society, where men try to dominate women. Thanks to my training and acquired skills, I have been able to build my own future. And this is my message to young girls: education is one of the most important means to unleash our potential. Don’t give up!”.