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I nearly died due to lack of accessible healthcare… now I receive awards for my work fighting for women’s rights

Bhagawati Pudasaini on the right with CARE International UK's Senior Policy Advisor Howard Mollett and Nepalese charity founder Gyanu Poudyal in New York ahead of meeting the UN Security Council.Bhagawati Pudasaini on the right with CARE International UK's Senior Policy Advisor Howard Mollett and Nepalese charity founder Gyanu Poudyal in New York ahead of meeting the UN Security Council.Senior diplomats at the United Nations Security Council do not typically meet with women’s rights activists from the most poor and far-flung corners of the world. But this month they did.

From 16 to 19 October, CARE hosted a delegation of its local partners and community activists from Nepal and elsewhere. The visit was timed to influence the UN Security Council’s annual debate on October 29 on commitments to better protect women in conflict and increase womens’ involvement in peace processes. They would interact with the highest level officials of UN agencies, peacekeepers, and the embassies of UN member states in New York.

Amongst CARE’s partners was Bhagawati Pudasaini, founder of the Rural Women’s Service Centre in Nepal. She told her story. How her journey through life had led to her becoming an activist. Her abduction by state security and what happened next.

This is my story

“My name is Bhagawhati. This is my story. I was born to a family with 14 brothers and sisters. When I was 14, I was married. Every morning, I had to wake at 4 am to cook and clean. Every night before sleep, I would have to massage the feet of my father-in-law and mother-in-law.

No medical facilities

I became pregnant and there were complications. I lay nearly dying for four days. There were no medical facilities anywhere near my home village. Eventually they took me to a town health facility and I was saved. I resolved to work on women’s access to healthcare. I organised popular performances and discussions on this in my district.

I also got involved in the cooperative movement and started the first women-led cooperative in my district. At this time the Maoist insurgency was gaining ground in the country. State security forces accused me of campaigning for the Maoists.

Abducted

They came to my village and abducted me and six others. We were held. When they took us I had my period and they would not let me use sanitary towels or any medication. They humiliated me and called me terrible names in front of my children.

When I came out, I continued my work. I did not want to be beaten. I joined the National Forum For Women’s Rights Concerns. This is a coalition of women from the poorest and most excluded parts of Nepal. Now my network has more than 27,000 members. Thousands of like-minded women have come together to raise their voices.

Women’s rights and gender issues

When the forum was invited to train the state security forces on women’s rights and gender issues last year, they asked me to do it. These were forces in the same barracks where I had been held captive! It was very difficult. I was scared but I did it.

I told the soldiers there that before this training I did not see them as my brothers. But now this is changing. They are changing and democratising. They have invited me to their barracks, where previously I had been held prisoner, to train them. They are my brothers now.

I have received much recognition and several awards for this work. People who previously insulted me greet me now. And now I am invited here to share this experience with the UN too. Thank you for listening to my story.”

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