Real Business Women – Business Literacy, HVAP Jumla
Lorina Sthapit and Kaushal Shrestha, IFAD Nepal
“My husband says we have 300 apple trees. I have no choice but to believe him since I don’t know how to count,” said Mayadevi Rawat, a member of Kalika Vegetable and Fruits Production Group in Umghat VDC of Jumla District.
Like Mayadevi, most women farmers of Umghat depend on literate men for number-related matters. Particularly when dealing with money, even the simplest of calculations place immense pressure on them. As a result, the women hesitate to lead negotiates with customers and distributors, and lack confidence to manage their own hard-earned money.
“My hands shake with fear when trying to use a calculator,” said a group member. “If I make a mistake while calculating money, or if I fail to realise when someone is cheating me, it is a loss for my entire family. I cannot afford to take such risks. So I let my husband be in charge.”
Like much of rural Nepal, the female literacy rate in Jumla is considerably low. According to the latest National Population and Housing Census 2011, Jumla’s female literacy rate is only 37 per cent, compared to the male literacy rate of 75 per cent. Various studies point towards the patriarchal Nepali society, and the gender-biased parental attitudes within, as the main reason behind such realities. Unable to read, write, and deal in numbers, rural women have little control over household and work related decisions, and must rely exceedingly on men to use their own earnings, whether it is to buy some bangles they fancy or fertilizers for the orchard.
In an attempt to address this issue, the High Value Agriculture Project (HVAP) has begun 30 business literacy classes for women farmers in seven project districts including Jumla. In the classes, the women are taught not just basic numbers and calculations, but also modern techniques of farm and business management, market-linkage skills, and group formation and empowerment concepts.
However, with limited reading and writing skills, the classes are immensely challenging for them. “It is not easy to learn new things at this age,” said a 50 years old member of the group. “Sometimes, even my own grandchildren make fun of me.”
But against all odds, these women farmers continue their struggle. Much of this perseverance, according to the women, comes from their regret of dropping out of adult literacy classes offered by the government. Having withdrawn out of fear of not performing well, the women have now realised how their fears are only minor hurdles to improving their lives and achieving independence.
“At present, men sell the apples and control the earnings even when we do much of the work in the fields. But looks like by the end of this class, we will be able to control our own incomes. We will become real business women.”
The women will be completing their 6-month business literacy classes in September 2014, in time for the apple harvest. An update will soon be posted on their progress.