PABITRA GURAGAIN, KATHMANDU, Nov 5: ‘Bithuwa’ is a small village of Suddhodhan Rural Municipality, the southern belt in Kapilvastu district where Sheshkala Pandey lives with her parents, two brothers and sisters.
The 19-year-old, Pandey, a college girl from the Madhes, where girls/ women are supposed to restrict themselves to private sphere, was glowing as she was receiving the “Unsung Hero Award’ presented by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare amidst a function in the capital few days ago. She received the award from Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare, Bikram Bahadur Thapa.
In her village, practices such as child/early marriage, dowry were prevalent until two years ago. Sheshkala Pandey, who herself once dared refuse her parents’ proposal to get married when she was just an eighth grader to chase her dreams for higher study and decided to get involved in small scale-income generating works to manage tuition fees, now heads a 30-member Girls’ Circle in her village which is supported by the District Women and Children Office, under the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The circle campaigns against social practices like girl’s early/ child marriage, child abuse, sexual abuses and violence against women and girls, other harmful practices existing in the society, advocates for sexual and reproductive health rights of girls and so on.
“We have to change the society. So we should not refrain ourselves by the challenges we face on our way,” says the Madhesh’s daughter who wishes to pursue her career in accountancy in the future.
She seemed confident as she was recalling the incident dating some years back when she and her fellows got the information that a 13 year-old girl from their locality was ready to get married with a 15-year-old boy from India as per wish of her parents. They immediately sought help from the local police and rushed to the girl (Indu Shahani)’s house where the wedding ceremony was underway and succeeded in stopping it.
In the past one and half year, nine girls were saved from getting married early and at the will of their parents in the village due to the Circle’s timely efforts.
It is surprising how Sheshkala, who attends her morning college classes and teaches at primary level in a local English boarding school to financially support herself, manages time to get engaged in efforts meant for ‘changing’ the society.
“Where there is will, there is a way,” she says. “I utilize leisure time in the evening to unite girls, encourage them to fight the malpractices against them and be bold to withstand all sorts of untoward violence against them.”
Results of her efforts have started to be seen in her locality where now parents rarely dare to send their girls to bridegroom’s house at their early age.
Her actions do not end to here. She and her fellows keep themselves busy in street drama and door to door programs aiming to spread public awareness on gender-based violence and encourage parents to send girls to schools and girls for micro savings. Sheshkala believes that girls’ education is the best and effective means of empowering girls and women. In the beginning, the entire society was riled to see Sheshkala doing all these things. Some people used to come to her house to resist Pandey and parents over her actions.
“It takes times to bring positive change in the society and it is of course not easy as well- the same happens in my case too,” she added. The same society now wishes that they would have a daughter like her who they could be proud of.
“Once you decide to do something for the good cause of the society, you should not stop until you reach your goal. You should not step back if any challenges come your way,” she opens her heart.
She and her peers run women empowerment classes on Fridays and Saturdays.
UNFPA District Coordinator in Kapilvastu, Chitra Mahato, described Sheskala as an ‘amazing girl’ ready to brace all odds to uplift the status of girls and women in her society. He, over telephone conservations, recalled the moment when a teenage girl from the Madhes community with warned the local representatives (mayors and chiefs of local levels) here in a public program not to abuse their post and authority.
It was the same group who convinced the local level to allocate budget to them to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child this year. “This is perhaps the first time in the country that a local girls’ group received budget from the local level to observe the Day through sole approach,” added Mahato.
After being honored by the Ministry for her contribution in bringing positive change in society especially in the lives of girls and women, she shared that she was very pleased to be in the capital to receive the award and it was obviously an aspiration for her to continue her journey to what she said “change the society”.