International Women’s Day 2021: “Choose to Challenge”

Kalpana Bishowkarma (right) a nutrition intervention outreach worker with the Jiri municipality in Nepal, leads a training session for local shopkeepers on the risks that highly-processed foods pose to proper childhood nutrition. PHOTO: Church Missionary Society Ireland (CMSI)

The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is “Choose to Challenge”, an idea that has at its core the aim to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements in a world where gender bias and inequality are still an all-too-present reality for many women. It’s a global day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women everywhere but also a day calling for the acceleration of gender equality.

In keeping with the “Choose to Challenge” theme, Misean Cara takes the occasion of #InternationalWomensDay2021 to put the spotlight on the story of Kalpana Bishowkarma of Jiri municipality in Nepal, whose professional achievements illustrate the potential of women across the developing world to uplift their lives and those around them.

Kalpana Bishowkarma, a nutrition outreach worker with the Jiri Municipality in Nepal.

Jiri, a city located a 7-hour bus ride to the east of Kathmandu, is an area with an incidence of deep-rooted and extensive child malnutrition. The Nutrition Promotion and Consultancy Service (NPCS), a local partner that has carried out food distribution in the community, observed concerning malnutrition levels which led, in late 2017, to a nutritional survey carried out in collaboration with Church Mission Society Ireland (CMSI) and with funding from Misean Cara. The survey revealed that 37% of children under five were stunted in their growth, and 12% were under weight. There was evidence of poor dietary diversity and a high consumption of low-quality ultra-processed food. As a follow-on from the survey, CMSI secured three years of Misean Cara funding for a community nutrition programme.

As part of the programme, a network of community health volunteers was mobilised to take the messages of the project out into the community. Kalpana was one of those community health volunteers, going out into her community to provide training and raise awareness with mothers, teachers, and other community stakeholders on proper nutrition and cooking healthy meals, in an area where many children suffer the life-long effects and irreversible consequences of insufficient dietary diversity. (Read more about the programme in our 2019 Annual Report here.)

As time has gone on, and the benefits to community nutrition levels have been evidenced from the programme, the local government of Jiri has become an enthusiastic supporter of the project, contributing to the cost of student meals, and looking at ways to continue funding the programme after Misean Cara funding support ceased in 2020. 

For Kalpana, this growing support of the municipality has resulted in her appointment to formal employment with the city, in a role with a mandate to continue her community outreach and focus on nutrition support to families in Jiri.

As a woman and as a member of the marginalised Dalit community, Kalpana’s promotion to a government role represents a bold achievement and also highlights the importance the municipality now sees in community nutrition thanks to the project. By investing in paid support, the municipality is helping to secure the sustainability of the project’s benefits into the future. But it also establishes Kalpana as a true community role model, as the first and only woman of Dalit background to be awarded a nutrition position at the government level.

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