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Gaining ground on the Millennium Development Goals, with equity, in Nepal

Outreach to poor and marginalized communities

This week’s UN Millennium Development Goals  summit highlighted the importance of reaching the world’s most disadvantaged children in order to achieve the MDGs with equity by 2015. Here is a related story.

By Sarah Crowe and Rajat Madhok

DADELDHURA DISTRICT, Nepal, 24 September 2010 – From a distance, perched on a pretty Himalayan hilltop, Shiradi village looks like many other villages in the far west of Nepal, but it’s not.

VIDEO: 16 September 2010 - UNICEF's Sarah Crowe reports on efforts to gain ground on the Millennium Development Goals by reaching the poorest and most marginalized communities in Nepal.


Like other villages, it’s poor, rugged and remote. There are no real roads, no electricity and no services. But this is also a village where only the ‘lower caste’ live and, more unusually, a village where no men reside.

Every capable man and boy has gone to work in the capital of neighbouring India, Delhi, while the women toil alone on the tough terrain for most of the year. Only once or twice a year, the men come back for short breaks.

It’s not just the geography in this out-of-reach spot or their gender that holds back the women and girls of Shiradi. It’s also traditions and caste. Despite robust economic growth, South Asia is a region of widening gaps between rich and poor. In Nepal, this disparity has been brought into even sharper relief by a rise in the number of millionaires, while the majority of the population still lives on under $1.25 a day. In addition, unique caste divides cut deep, as ethnic and tribal groups are marginalized. 

Reaching the ‘bottom quintile’

It is gaps like these that UNICEF and other aid agencies are trying to narrow in the countdown to the Millennium Development Goals’ 2015 target date. For some regions, it’s about reaching the ‘bottom quintile’ – the lowest 20 per cent on the economic scale, the poorest of the poor.

© UNICEF Nepal/2010/Madhok
A young Dalit girl returns from school in the village of Sarki Basti, located in the hill district of Kavre, near Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.

In Shiradi, time seems to have frozen. Extreme poverty, combined with established traditions, has delayed development by decades. Girls marry young and are unprepared for motherhood. When they menstruate, they are sometimes forced to live in an outhouse for fear they’ll bring ‘bad luck’ to family and livestock.

Many women and children in this region risk being left behind, destined to miss out on the benefits of investment in human development simply because they were born poor, female, of the wrong caste, or simply in the wrong place.

Impact of caste discrimination

UNICEF Communication Specialist Rupa Joshi has been working with the marginalized communities of Nepal for many years. She has seen how living with extreme poverty and harmful, rigid traditions holds women and their children back from reaching their true potential.

© UNICEF Nepal/2010/Madhok
Children play on the edge of a hill at Sarki Basti village, where many families still face daily discrimination because they belong to the lower caste.

“The people migrated from Achham and they seem to have brought the culture along with them and kept it alive,” Ms. Joshi said, referring to the practices observed in Shiradi. She noted that the isolation of menstruating girls and women is not practiced in other villages; nor is the custom in which all the men go to work in India. “The poverty, caste system – it’s just so hard eking out a living in this area,” she said.

In another remote village, Sarki Basti, located in the hill district of Kavre, Buddhamaya Mizar, 50, and her family face caste-based discrimination every day. This family of six belong to the so-called Dalit or lower caste. Prejudices and taunts by upper castes are part of their daily lives. In fact, they’re literally being looked down upon; the upper castes live up on the hill, while the lower castes dwell below.

“Some villagers ask us to stay away from them, while a few treat us equally,” said Ms. Mizar. “If we go to their houses to have meals, we have to wash our dishes ourselves, then they take the utensils only after sprinkling purifier on things we’ve touched.”

Achieving the MDGs with equity

But even in such far-flung spots, the seeds of change are being sown, beginning with the youngest. UNICEF and partners have established early childhood development centres here, as well as paralegal committees to help communities become aware of the rights of women and children. Health workers are also being trained to make sure children’s growth is monitored. And safe motherhood practices at the community level are promoted by linking traditional birth attendants with community workers.

© UNICEF Nepal/2010/Madhok
A young Dalit mother sits outside her mud house with her grandfather in Sarki Basti village, western Nepal.

Nepal has made significant gains on the road to achieve its Millennium Development Goals by 2015 – particularly in reducing child mortality, which is on track to meet the MDG target. UNICEF’s efforts are aimed firmly at reaching the poorest and most marginalized children and families, through services such as like mobile health and schooling. These services reach out to where the poorest live, narrowing the gaps on the ground.

With the bulk of the world’s poor living in South Asia, what happens in this region will make a marked difference in the world reaching the MDGs with equity in the next five years.




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