"Huge Progress in Family Planning"- Kamala Thapa
The interview was featured in New Spotlight Magazine. Read the original article here.
How do you look at the state of women empowerment in Nepal?
If you look at the state of women over the last two decades, you can see a drastic change: the participation of women has significantly increased in various sectors. In this period, the government has provided adequate protection, promoted equal rights and made a noteworthy investment for women's development. Of course, we can see certain changes for the better, however, there is still the need to do more and there are many areas for improvement.
How do you see the role of INGOs and NGOs?
Many NGOs and INGOs have been working in Nepal including in the field of women’s reproductive health and empowerment, some producing the best of results. Sunaulo Parivar is one of them. Through Marie Stopes International, we have been launching nationwide programs which have been effective and popular as the service we provide is of high quality and affordable. I am very happy to say that the government has recognized us as one of the best organization in implementing the program targeting women and providing safe abortion, reproductive and sexual health services. In the areas of reproductive health and family planning, you can see tangible and praiseworthy progress. Marie Stopes and Sunaulo Parivar contributed significantly in reducing maternal mortality and meeting the millennium development goal. Even the Ministry of Health has recognized our achievements and has been helping us.
What changes do you see are important?
As family planning and safe abortion services are available, this has positively impacted the life expectancy of women, contributing to reduce maternal mortality. Along with this, women’s participation in politics, social activities and education have changed. The number of elected women in recently concluded local elections is satisfying. As women consist of more than half of the population, they need to set their goals to achieve parity in all fields and be an equal partner in contributing to the development of the country. In this regard, I can safely claim the present trend is encouraging.
Don’t you think discrimination still exists?
Women are the mother, sister, daughter, mother-in-law, and daughter-in-law who have a very important role to play in family and society. As such they are highly regarded and are to be respected and cared for according to our religious beliefs. It is unfortunate that they are still discriminated and neglected in practice. With awareness and improvement in education, I feel and hope the situation will improve.
How do you see the difference in the priorities in the beginning and now?
When I started family planning program through Marie Stopes Nepal, the first and foremost priority of the organization was to reduce maternal mortality through the protection of reproductive rights. I led the organization for almost two decades as it focused on women’s health and rights. This is also an organization to protect the right to choose. Our goal is to provide women with choices so they can plan their own family and future. Marie Stopes helps women and men manage their reproductive and sexual health with our motto “children by choice not chance”. Thus the main focus is now to empower women.
What five programs do you suggest in the areas of women and reproductive health?
There is the need to increase investment in women's education. There should be educated to all girls. It should be mandatory. The second important area will be women's participation. Their exposure is another important area. We need to increase women's participation in all the sectors and there is the need to have equal participation. Finally, the most important part is an encouragement. We need to encourage women. There is also the need of support from family. Support and encouragement are the pre-requisites for women. Nepali women are very capable and they can contribute a lot to the country’s development.
How do you see the difference between the past and now?
In early days, discrimination against women was rampant, but now the situation is better and you can see many changes. I have to say, however, that there still exist such practices like Chaupadi and Devaki systems which should be abolished.
How do you see the level of awareness among women in family planning?
It has tremendously increased. Along with providing family planning method, Maries Stopes also provides the service. We do provide safe abortion, sterilization, and distribution of various kinds of contraceptives. I am proud to say that my organization has been distributing contraceptives nationwide preventing unwanted pregnancy and giving women right to choice. We have also been providing education to create awareness on reproductive health. In this field, we are proud to announce that Marie Stopes is regarded as one of the best organization in the world. With our dedicated efforts for more than two decades along with those of others, there is definitely an increased awareness among women in family planning.
What inspired you earlier to join Marie Stopes?
Realizing the dire health situation especially the reproductive health of women in my country – mostly in remote areas I decided to be part of the program believing that the program would finally contribute to improve their health, bring awareness and consequently empower women. What I can say now is that after legalizing certain cases of abortion, Marie Stopes Nepal was the first organization that opened the safe abortion clinics throughout the country to provide service to the needy women and saves their life. Our nationwide presence has contributed to reducing the maternal mortality rate of Nepal. Similarly, our clinics also protect the Reproductive Health Rights of women. This is a great achievement. It is the mother’s decision whether she wants the baby, not anybody else's. Our mission is clear: children by choice, not by chance. In this sense, what I can say now is that Marie Stopes has also empowered women. Looking back at what we have achieved, I am satisfied and happy that I joined Marie Stopes.
How do you spend your time?
Since leaving as the country director of Marie Stopes Nepal, I am still involved with the program as Chairperson of Sunaulo Parivar Nepal, implementing partner of Marie Stopes Nepal. There is still the need of a lot of work to do in the field of women’s reproductive health and empowerment. I am also involved in social work as director of Hope for Nepal Foundation, an NGO which worked actively and provided relief supplies to the needy in all 14 districts affected by the 2015 earthquake. As I have a little more time now I often visit my children and particularly look forward to seeing my grand children.