Heather Webb

Heather Webb (Women’s Reproductive Rights Program - WRRP): Heather earned her BA in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2004, and then studied law at the New York Law School in 2008. After Law School, Heather practiced law for nearly three years in the corporate department of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP. At the time of her fellowship, Heather was studying for a Master’s degree in international law at the New York University School of Law with a focus on international human rights law. While at NYU, Heather also worked as an Advocacy Volunteer for MADRE, and an Intern for the Legal Advocacy Program of CONNECT, a domestic violence organization. During the Fall semester, Heather served as a Legal Intern for Human Rights Watch, where she worked for the Disability Rights Researcher/Advocate. After her fellowship she wrote: “Through my fellowship with WRRP, I have learned so much about life from a very different perspective. I have found it amazing how the layers of understanding keep peeling away the longer I stay here and the more I experience in rural Nepal. This experience has been a life-changing one and has reaffirmed my commitment to a career advancing human rights.”



CHANGEMAKERS: WHO DRIVES WRRP AND WHAT DRIVES THEM

05 Sep

During my field visit to the WRRP-Lahan working area in July, while sitting quietly and unattended outside of a tea shop in Jandol VDC of Saptari District, a man who spoke some small amount of English approached me and, after (I think) explaining to me that he is someone important in the community, asked me about my work in Nepal.

I spoke for a short while about WRRP and its work on uterine prolapse and my particular interest in child marriage.  This man then asked me my age and inquired about my marriage.  I told him my age and stated that I am unmarried.  He did not hide his shock-bordering-on-disapproval and asked if it is common in my country to remain unmarried this long, to which I replied “yes” (it is in my circles).

Mr. Important of Jandol then told me that in Nepal girls are married by the age of 20.

“Is that a good thing?”, I asked.

“Yes, 16 to 20 is the appropriate age for girls to marry”, he said and then spoke for a bit about the physical maturity of girls and cultural practices, only the gist of which I understood.

A view of Jandol from the offices of CBO Maitighardaiya Samuha, with which WRRP partners to implements its programs

A view of Jandol from the offices of CBO Maitighardaiya Samuha, with which WRRP partners to implements its programs

When I finally sat down for tea with the two women with whom I was spending my time in Jandol – Jandol Program Coordinator Ranzita Chaudhary and Jandol UP Campaigner Samita Chaudhary – I conveyed to them my conversation with the important man through a combination of words and gestures, as they speak only some English (and I speak hardly any Nepali).  I then asked them their ages – I already knew that they are both unmarried as I had been to their homes and talked with them about their families.  They informed me that Ranzita is 27 and Samita is 22.

UP Campaigner Samita Chaudhary and Program Coordinator Ranzita Chaudhary in Jandol VDC, Saptari District

UP Campaigner Samita Chaudhary and Program Coordinator Ranzita Chaudhary in Jandol VDC, Saptari District

“But that man said women in Nepal marry by 20?”, I posed suggestively.

Ranzita just looked at me and replied, without so much as blinking, “progress”.

I broke out into the hugest smile.  As the corners of Ranzita’s lips turned up only slightly, I saw what makes her a true changemaker.  Ranzita does not merely go through the motions of implementing WRRP’s programs, she lives the example.  Ranzita struts around her community exuding a confidence that I wish I possessed, and her entire being defies you to tell her that women are inferior or “belong” anywhere.

Ranzita Chaudhary, Jandol Program Coordinator

Ranzita Chaudhary, Jandol Program Coordinator

“It is not that I don’t want to get married”, Ranzita shared with me during our time together, showing her softer side, “I do.  But it is important to me to first become independent”.

The video below comprises WRRP personnel sharing their thoughts on why they do the work that they do.  But it is not solely because of these stellar individuals that WRRP is able to effect social change; it is because these changemakers find the Ranzitas of Nepal with whom to join forces.  As WRRP Advocacy Officer Dushala Adhikari recently reminded me, “WRRP is their organization; it’s not our organization”, referring to the members of the grassroots communities in which WRRP works – such as Ranzita.

*        *        *

Before you enjoy the following video, here is a little bit of background to help you understand WRRP as an organization and how it implements its programs – from the WRRP team in Kathmandu to the ordinary yet extraordinary community members working on the ground in the villages.

The Beginning

WRRP is a program within the larger and prior-established Centre for Agro-Ecology and Development (or CAED) which has worked in the areas of agricultural rights and land rights, among other human rights, in Nepal.  During the mid- to late-1990s, the members of CAED, through carrying out their fieldwork in the far-Western district of Achham, started to become aware of the high number of women in this area suffering from a condition which they later learned to be uterine prolapse.  The CAED team gradually became aware of the host of issues – social, physical, psychological – that commonly accompany the condition.

WRRP Executive Director Samita Pradhan describes the beginning of WRRP: “our team thought that if we are working with women, if we are working in women’s rights, we have to work on this”.  And in 1999, WRRP was launched to work toward curbing the prevalence of uterine prolapse in Nepal through preventive as well as curative measures.  WRRP’s holy grail is that uterine prolapse in Nepal is more than merely a medical problem; it is a women’s rights issue, the underlying cause of which is the deeply rooted subordination of women.

The Structure

WRRP is headquartered in Kathmandu.  This is where Samita works with her small but stellar team, and this is where the high level organizational planning, strategizing, and program coordination takes place.

Family lunchtime at the WRRP offices in Kathmandu!

Family lunchtime at the WRRP offices in Kathmandu!

Then there are the WRRP field locations.  These change over time as WRRP’s programs become self-sustaining in particular areas and as WRRP expands into new areas.  Currently, WRRP has a field team based in Birendranagar municipalityof Surkhet District (the “WRRP-West” team), which works in Surkhet, Jajarkot, and Deilekh districts, a field team based in the town of Lahan in Siraha District (the “WRRP-Lahan” team), which works in Siraha and Saptari districts, and a field team based in and working in Mugu District.  Each field team is small and consists of a managing coordinator, an advocacy officer, a reproductive health officer, and an administrative officer – give or take.

So how do these few individuals implement programs in such large, diverse areas?  They work together with the community members themselves.  This is what Dushala means when she says “WRRP is their organization”.

WRRP partners with community-based organizations (or CBOs) in its working areas and designated persons therefrom are the frontline implementers of WRRP’s programs in their respective communities.  Generally, one community member from the CBO serves as the “Program Coordinator” for a few, say three to five, nearbyVillage Development Committees (or VDCs – each of Nepal’s 75 districts is further divided into VDCs), and one or two community members serve as “Uterine Prolapse Campaigners” (or UP Campaigners) in each VDC.  In the working areas of WRRP-West, the roles of UP Campaigners are filled by Model Couple Campaigners (or MCCs – wife and husband couples).

UP Campaigners working in Siraha and Saptari districts engage in group discussions at a psychosocial analysis training program organized by WRRP-Lahan in July

UP Campaigners working in Siraha and Saptari districts engage in group discussions at a psychosocial analysis training program organized by WRRP-Lahan in July

These grassroots level coordinators and campaigners work closely with the WRRP field teams and attend training programs, host group discussions, make household visits, organize educational programs, help those in their communities navigate the health system, and put women in contact with WRRP as needed.

Believe it or not, this is me trying to keep it short, so if you are interested to know more, please ask!  If you have any comments, suggestions, or thoughts to share, please also do so!  Click Leave A Reply below.

Now, please enjoy a few thoughts from the WRRP team members themselves.

Posted By Heather Webb

Posted Sep 5th, 2012

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