It was 2004 when Indra Kumari Thapa started walking from farm to farm, looking for members to join the female-only cooperative she managed. Some doors were shut on her. Others opened wide.
Pokhara Sarangkot SFACL manager Indra Kumari Thapa.
Men were reluctant at first, she said, to let their mothers, wives or daughters have control over whether or not the family received loans. But, with time, word of mouth spread in the community, and Thapa found it easier and easier to convince men to let women become members. Likely because the loans were economically benefiting neighbours, and men wanted in on the prize.
The Pokhara Sarangkot-based cooperative Thapa manages is one of many Small Farmer Agriculture Cooperatives Ltd. (SFACLs) operated through a three-tiered structure where Sana Kisan Bikas Bank Ltd. (SKBBL) gives loans to them. In turn, SFACLs offer loans to farmers, particularly in rural, underprivileged communities.
Over the last few years, Thapa has noticed a significant difference in the Sarangkot community. She says men no longer offer sarcastic comments to her or the women in their families when she knocks on their doors. It seems, she added, that women do not need permission from men when making a decision to take out loans with the SFACL. Women come in hordes, often by themselves.
Now, 2300 women are involved with the SFACL and Nrs. 17 billion worth of loans have been provided to 810 different families in the region.
Every Annual General Meeting (AGM), approximately 2,000 women fill the room. Thapa says there is a ‘mass movement’ coming of women who want to, and can finally, engage in economic activities through agriculture. It has given Sarangkot-based women a platform on which they can voice their concerns and access to training on financial management and literacy, leadership, health, farming, and confidence.
As many farmers have become more successful due to the cooperative’s existence and the loans it is able to offer, the cooperative has gained stature. Thapa said she is now able to call the coordinators of regional cooperative meetings when the Pokhara Sarangkot SFACL is not invited to ask why. When she first started working for the SFACL, she had not imagined she would be in a position to do that.
She also acknowledges the luck she has had to work at this location. “If it wasn’t an all-female cooperative,” she said matter-of-factly, “I wouldn’t have had a managerial position.”
Steps towards gender equity have undoubtedly been made, but there is still much room for improvement. It will take time before everyone is convinced that women are just as capable as men, Thapa said.
“When we (women) are given the opportunity, we can handle managing positions too.”
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