Jaya Luintel has a vision: to see the history of Nepal retold through the eyes of women. The Story Kitchen, a project she helped set up, aims to do just that.
The initiative uses community radio and workshops to offer an outlet for women to tell their life stories, particularly their experiences during the country’s decade-long civil war.
Luintel hopes the project will give women new skills, a safe space to talk and, crucially, increase their confidence so that they feel able to testify before Nepal’s truth and reconciliation commission, set up to investigate rights abuses during the conflict.
“We want people to look at armed conflict through women’s eyes,” explains Luintel, the organisation’s president and CEO.
“When my granddaughter reads about the history of Nepal and the history of conflict I really don’t want her not to know about what women faced.”
The Story Kitchen was established in 2012, but money from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women enabled the project to step up its work last year.
Luintel has worked in radio for years, reporting on issues facing women and lending a female perspective to all the stories she has sourced. She hosted a Saturday morning show about women’s rights and social justice.
When Luintel began working for an NGO she recognised that the “internet and new media technology can bring people together and provide a platform for people to share stories”. The seed of an idea for the Story Kitchen was planted.
Through the project, women who survived violence in 10 districts – some among those most affected by the conflict – have been trained as “justice reporters”, learning audio and interviewing techniques that allow them to record the testimonies of women in their communities. The journalists have been paired up with women’s rights activists to offer support “if they [journalists] face problems or threats” in their work.
“The women get recognition for being justice reporters and go door to door. They know who in their communities have survived violence. That is the best way to reach women,” says Luintel.
Cultural taboos surrounding sexual violence and fear of reprisals mean it is hard to determine how many women and girls were abused during the conflict, which ran between 1996 and 2006.
In 2014, a tribunal, organised by Nepalese women’s groups and the national human rights commission, confirmed that rape and other acts of sexual violence were committed against women during the conflict. The tribunal also heard that when violence was reported, no action was taken.
Despite the Nepalese government prioritising the issue of gender-based violence since the war, legislative changes – including outlawing marital rape and introducing a law against domestic violence – often go unenforced. In 2014, it was reported in the Social Institutions and Gender Index, published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s development centre, that the notion of women being subservient to men in Nepal was so rooted in society that “neither the violence nor the failure to complain about it is unusual”.
So far, 94 stories have been collected and documented by the justice reporters. Some of the women who shared their stories have since attended a follow-up workshop to meet with other survivors, find support, and receive encouragement to seek justice for the crimes committed against them.
Some of the testimonies have been broadcast on Nepalese radio. Written summaries have been collated to provide a body of evidence that organisers hope will feed into the truth and reconciliation process, to ensure women’s experiences are given prominence.
“We are also working with some radio stations at district level to help journalists to be more sensitive about violence against women … so they can be aware … and be sensitive when reporting stories about women who experienced violence,” says Luintel. The media in Nepal is dominated by men.
“We want to boost the confidence of women, so they can testify and not feel alone, so they can come forward and seek justice,” adds Luintel. “We want to put a microphone in the hands of women – that is powerful.”
Funding for the Story Kitchen, which in December won the Tomorrow’s Peacebuilders award, runs until the end of 2017. Hopeful that they can widen the project to include more women, Luintel and her team are busy trying to secure more money.
She admits changing perceptions about women in Nepal is still very challenging, but hopes the work they are doing will make men more sensitive to the needs and experiences of women.
“We really want them [men] to own these issues, to be in the shoes of those women and think about what would have happened to their mother, grandmother at that time. We have all gone through this armed conflict.”