WOW | In Focus

When Women Lead & Rebuild In Nepal

Meet two World Food Programme (WFP) pioneers helping to rebuild their country in unconventional ways and challenge societal gender norms.

Just a few weeks after Bhawana Thapaliya made history by becoming Nepal’s first female licensed forklift operator, she got an unexpected call.
It was New Year’s Day, 2017. A security guard at WFP’s Humanitarian Staging Area in Kathmandu needed someone to urgently offload a delivery of relief items — corrugated iron sheets to rebuild homes and temples — that had just arrived. Bhawana canceled her holiday plans with family, making her way over to operate one of the forklifts. Two days later, she had managed to offload the entire delivery.

On the front lines of natural disaster and hunger, forklift operators and engineers are in high demand. Bhawana and Rosy Shrestha, WFP’s first female engineer in Nepal, have helped resource WFP’s relief operations and rebuild mountain trails after twin earthquakes struck the Himalayan country more than two years ago — overcoming roadblocks at every turn.

“Becoming the first female licensed forklift operator in Nepal is a great achievement for me as well as all women in Nepal,” Bhawana says. “When you live in a country that says the job of a forklift operator is only for men and not for women, it gives you immense satisfaction to break that traditional stereotype.”

After the earthquakes hit in the spring of 2015, Rosy and Bhawana used their skills and passion to help WFP improve the lives of people that were most affected. They used their expertise to help people access food and markets, responding to a crisis from which the country is still recovering.

Rosy, who grew up drawing sketches among a family of architects and engineers, is the only woman on a 7-person engineering project team.

Her team is upgrading more than 80 miles of trails that were badly damaged as a result of the 2015 earthquakes. These trails serve to connect hundreds of thousands of people in the remote mountains of Dhading district to resources in the district of Gorkha — from food to government facilities, hospitals and schools.

When in the field supervising contractors, she spends up to eight hours a day walking from one construction site to another. She also supervises other women who have been employed to help rebuild the trail.

“Women are still not fully accepted in construction work, so there are very few women working in supervisory roles,” Rosy said. “In rural communities across Nepal, a woman’s first priority is looking after their families rather than work. It’s the norm that women should take care of the household and the family.”

Bhawana, who enjoyed driving motorbikes and 4-wheelers as a teenager, serves as a logistics associate on WFP’s emergency preparedness and response team.
When she started to explore the logistics industry, she was intrigued. Generally seen in Nepali society as “a man’s world,” logistics work was perceived to require physical strength and technical prowess ill suited for a woman.

“I had to prepare myself physically and mentally to be able to do the job– to convince my family and my colleagues that I could do it,” Bhawana said. “I worked late in the office, I travelled to the field. My parents and my supervisor always supported and encouraged me.”

At the time of the quakes, a number of forklifts were donated to support the relief effort. But there was a shortage of forklift operators to offload and move relief supplies at WFP’s main humanitarian staging area.
Thanks to the advocacy of WFP staff, the government created a certification system to license professional forklift drivers. The first group of 18 licensed forklift drivers in Nepal’s history passed the test earlier this year — including Bhawana, the only woman.

I had to prepare myself physically and mentally to be able to do the job. To convince my family and my colleagues that I could do it.

For Rosy, Bhawana’s success is a motivating force for her own work.

“It’s always a special feeling to be No. 1 in any field,” Rosy says. “Bhawana has again made us all feel proud. She is very talented and confident, and I am sure she will continue doing this in the years ahead.”

For Bhawana, she has one message for women who are interested in making a difference in the field of logistics.
“We should take every moment and opportunity to prove that we women are as equal as men and can do whatever men can do,” she says.

Source: / writer: Ash Kosiewicz