The month of March held great things on our planet. International Women’s Day, while not a major commercial success in the United States, is a big deal in other countries and is celebrated through thousands of events worldwide to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women while focusing the world’s attention on women’s issues that need further action. Heifer projects all over the world take this day to honor the women and girls who will ultimately save this planet.
This past month, we’ve been highlighting the rock star women farmers on our blog. Earlier this month, a remarkable story came to us from Nepal that captures the very essence of what Heifer is seeking to do worldwide. It only seems appropriate to close out March with this story of Heifer at Her best.
In Nepal, each village has a “village development committee” where the project is implemented and a certain budget amount is allocated to that committee. There are several mandates on how this money is to be used. A certain amount should go to the “untouchable” caste called the Dalits, a certain amount goes to general “women’s empowerment” activities, and so on. However, for some of these committees, there are very few accountability measures in place to make sure that the money is spent wisely and as intended. Sometimes the committees pick a few women who are close to the committee members and do some minor or insignificant activities to report the budget allocated for that purpose as spent.
Politics at its best, right?
This very issue was happening in a village called Khayarmara in Mahottari. The committee had committed 500,000 rupees, or about $5,200, towards the Heifer projects. Five months after the project kicked off, the committee had not contributed any money to the project. The chief of the committee made excuses, saying that there was not enough budget, that they had spent the money in other activities, that there were other priorities, blah blah blah, politician speak.
Well, the women from the Heifer project weren’t having it.
A group of women who formed one of Heifer’s self-help groups (SHGs) came together and sent a delegation to the committee when they knew the committee was having a meeting. They went to the village hall and stood outside and waited. When the meeting ended and the committee members stepped out the door, the women would not allow them to leave or pass by.
The women knew that there was money allotted to them and that this funding was their right to have and know about. They demanded that the committee members provide a reckoning of the dollars spent. They demanded that the budget for their project be released. They demanded that if the monies weren’t accounted for, that the women would do their own investigation not only into the money for the projects, but how the committee had spent all the money for the village constituents over the past years.
The committee members were floored. Tough spot indeed. They knew they couldn’t account for the money from the past, and since the SHG women were not going to back down, or even let them leave the village hall, they were forced to release the project money.
Look out world.
These women did all this on their own. It was only a spark of inspiration from different Heifer trainings and concepts, like the 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development, that these women knew that, together, their voice could be heard and make a difference.
A difference indeed. This is Heifer at Her best.