MY LAND, MY RIGHT : Son Maya and Konu Kumari
Even earthquakes couldn’t shake the path to empowerment. The power bestowed on the women of Nepal through Joint Land Ownership programme not only empowered women but it also helped them rebuild their lives from rubble as well.
When massive earthquake hit major parts of Nepal in the year 2015, the world gaped in shock as what remained of Nepal was death and devastation. Standing at the brink of total destruction, it is the will-power of the Nepalese people and the active support from the government as well as local and international NGOs that helped rebuild lives and living. Communities from all over the world lent their helping hand, of which ILC members too were some of the strong supporters. Bit by bit, the Nepalese people regained their footing and helped themselves to self-sufficiency. But what stood out was the massive role that women played in helping their families become financially and socially strong once again. And all thanks to the Joint Land Ownership system that helped the women in the process. The stories of Konu Kumari Karki and Som Maya Bhandari are examples of how Joint Land Ownership has provided successful case studies for the world over to follow.
” JOINT LAND OWNERSHIP IS THE ANSWER TO GENDER DISCRIMINATION” : Konu Kumari Karki proudly displays her Joint Land Ownership document.
Konu Kumari Karki and her family of five are one of the typical examples of rural families of Nepal. Like the rest of Nepal, her family was also affected by the massive earthquake. In Konu’s words, “Our ward was worst hit by quake. Death toll was highest in our area. Few days were spent in despair and empty stomach. Tarpaulin was shelter for 3 houses during that period. As relief from agencies and government arrived we upgraded to transitional shelter of our own”
Farmers of Helambu rural municipality ward 7; Ichok had horrendous sufferings from quake. For many like Konu, the transitional shelter was for living. But their production was still rotting in open air. Rodents and reptiles added to the challenge. After two and half years in transitional shelter, the government announced grant of Rs. 3lakhs. That would be for a two-room house. However for Konu’s family two rooms were not enough. But for bigger house they did not have savings. So, while their neighbors started construction from government grant, Konu’s family decided to choose the alternative and go for HELVETAS as they had their own technicians and mobilizers. This decision proved to be a life changing one for Konu, as she not only got a house but her rightful ownership as well.
Currently, Konu Kumari Karki and her family have a 3 room disaster resilient house. She says,”Agencies not only constructed my house but established my ownership in land as well. After 16 yrs of marriage I am legally owner of my house. I have no words to express my gratitude. We worked together to run our family. But Ownership was of husband alone. Constant fear of him selling land predominantly occupied my mind. Thanks to CSRC and HELVETAS, this fear is now gone.”
“JOINT LAND OWNERSHIP HAS BOOSTED MY CONFIDENCE : Konu Kumari Karki”
Lastly, Konu Kumari Karki adds”We all want to stop gender discrimination but the question was how. Joint land ownership (JLO) is the answer .In the beginning; all were skeptical on what would happen of a woman’s name being added in ownership. But I have felt the change now, my decisions are also respected. My confidence is also boosted. Orientation on JLO is being made in area regularly. I also participate and suggest all to go in for Joint Land Ownership for creating stronger stance for women in the society.”
And not Komu alone……
Like Komu, Joint Land Ownership has been a life changing experience for Som Maya Bhandari as well. Som Maya Bhandari belongs to Helambu Rural Municipality, Ward No 2, Kiul. She is a stereo typical example of women being a mere object of patriarchal society. She and her family of 5 were amply affected by the quake. As a result of the quake, her mother in law had deceased and they had lost their property in the disaster.To add to her woes, her husband was an alcoholic. Hence all the family’s responsibility came on the shoulders of Som Maya. Quake had affected their income as well.Trouble was increasing in alarming rate. Regular altercations at home resulted in her children skipping school on regular basis. She was harassed as well. Som Maya adds, “If it wasn’t for my children I would long left the house, but for my children’s better future I endured all the traumas for this long”.
Family problems piled up in an uncontrollable manner. Livestock rearing was an only option for livelihood. She had cognizance of it not being enough. Whatever little income she would get as a process would be captured by her husband.Domestic violence became a regular norm.Some turned towards violence as well.
In the meanwhile government announced 3 lakh grants for housing reconstruction. Dilemma on this grant being enough or not for housing reconstruction always encompassed Som Maya. Beneficiary card issued by government was in husband’s name. In this period Helvetas announced support for reconstruction of houses. Fortunately their ward was selected for support. Luck was on their side this time as their family was chosen for support. Emotional strain regarding reconstruction was uplifted. For all her troubles in all these years, Som Maya experienced relief for the first time as not only house, she got hold of her precious ownership rights as well. For a change, she could be in control of her land and hence the financial status of the family as well.
“TODAY I DON’T HAVE TO HIDE THE OWNERSHIP DOCUMENTS IN THE FEAR THAT MY HUSBAND WOULD SELL THE LAND OR HOUSE . I AM AN EQUAL OWNER OF IT: Som Maya Bhandari”
Now, Som Maya Bhandari has a disaster resilient house.Earlier they had 4 ropani (1 hectare=0.05 rop) of land. Her husband sold it without her knowledge. The money was also misused without her concern. Currently her house is constructed in only 0.2 hectare of remaining ancestral property. Anxiety always surrounded her that her husband would sell this land as well. She shares” There were many sleepless nights, fear always surrounded me. A constant grip of reality regarding my children will be landless is what made me acquire joint land ownership. Every day, out of fear, I use to hide the ownership documents in place he couldn’t find.”
Som Maya adds “Discussion regarding Joint land ownership started in community. I felt this joint land ownership is for women like me. I joined the campaign and submitted all my credentials. Receiving signature of my husband was whole new mountain to climb. After persuasion and many rounds of discussion he agreed. Today I have ownership of my house. I don’t have to hide the ownership documents in constant fear. My husband’s rehabilitation is redemption for him. But I can sleep in nights without worrying about my children’s future – thanks to JLO initiative.”
CSRC, a member of ILC and a vital part of the Commitment Based Initiative on Women’s Land Rights of ILC , has been a part of the life-changing policy of Joint Land ownership in Nepal. Not only were they part of the initiation process but have been regularly building sensitization and awareness around the process and system as well. Their door to door coverage and campaign have ensured that women like Komu Kumari Karki or Som Maya Pradhan can become faces of the global process of empowerment of women. They are also examples to prove that land ownership is a strong tool to bring about social changes which is gender inclusive.
Contributed and Written by: Sristi Shrestha – CSRC, NEPAL
Edited by: Srichandra Venkataramanan- Swadhina, India