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Dr Sindhu Prasad Dhungana: A male champion for gender equality

Posted: 22 March 2019

Nepal, Impact,

For International Women’s Day 2019, we are recognising the power of collective action and celebrating the achievements of Australia Awards alumni who are driving gender balance. This is the story of Dr Sindhu Prasad Dhungana, a male champion for gender equality in Nepal.

Dr Sindhu Prasad Dhungana is Joint Secretary at Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment. His key responsibilities include planning, budgeting and monitoring programs and projects in and under the Ministry. He also drafts policies, coordinates foreign aid-supported projects in the forestry sector, and manages information system for the forestry, environment and climate change sectors. He completed his PhD at Monash University (2014) and undertook a Master of Forests Science from Melbourne University (2006) through an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Despite gender inequalities in Nepal, do you have women in your workplace or other professional circles who have reached leadership positions?

I have known female colleagues who have reached leadership positions despite gender barriers. For example, the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN), which is a national network of more than 22,000 community forestry user groups across the country has a female Chairperson, Ms Bharati Pathk. FECOFUN is now a member of Global Alliance of Community Forestry (GACF), where Bharati has served as a secretariat member. Similarly, another woman is Ms Apsara Chapagai, who was the former president of FECOFUN, is now a board member of Regional Community Forestry Training Centre, a Thailand-based regional organisation working in community forestry. Apsara was initially a social mobiliser in a community forestry user group, who gradually developed her leadership from grassroots to an international level. Three joint secretaries in our Ministry (Ministry of Forests and Environment) are females; all of them are leading central level planning, budgeting, and policy-making processes of the Ministry. They are also preparing a Gender Code of Conduct and revising the Gender and Social Inclusion Strategy for the forestry sector. The leadership of these joint secretaries in the Ministry is immensely important.

Have you seen these women experience gender barriers, if so, what sort of barriers do they face?  

I have seen them, as well as other female colleagues, face many gender barriers. First, they have a lot of responsibilities not only at the office but also within their households. They are responsible for cooking, taking care of children and in some circumstances, taking care of in-laws. Secondly, they could face more social, physical and mental difficulties when undertaking field work over their male counterparts as often they need to arrange household tasks first, and their family members may not want them to stay overnight in the field. Socially, they can be stigmatised when they go to the field with male colleagues or if they stay overnight by themselves. Sexual harassment can be another serious problem in the workplace and is often considered a gender barrier for Nepalese women when trying to develop their careers.

Have you supported women in overcoming such gender barriers?    

When I was leading various organisations, including different training centres, the district forest office, or the REDD Implementation Centre, I appointed Gender Focal Points with a clear Terms of Reference. Those Gender Focal Points were assigned to ensure that the workplace was gender friendly. They were also responsible for noting and tracking gender-related issues. We would discuss these issues at meetings and address them in practice. I’ve also organised a series of trainings and workshops particularly for women staff on gender equity, sexual harassment in the workplace, and gender roles. Similarly, I am the Gender Focal Point at the Ministry of Forests and Environment. I’ve formed a ‘Gender Working Group’ under my leadership comprising of all the gender focal points and representatives from the government, community, and private sector organisations in the Forestry Sector. I’ve introduced a system at the Ministry of Forests and Environment to help ensure that women are included in Task Forces, or Committees, formed by the Ministry. When a delegation is formed for overseas meetings, workshops or training, I’ve lobbied for the inclusion of women in the team.

How do you value the role of men in overcoming challenges facing Nepali women in general and women in leadership positions in particular?

The role of men is very important for women in overcoming gender barriers in Nepal. Firstly, men can support their female family members in sharing household chores, so women have time to perform their leadership responsibilities. Secondly, at an office – male colleagues have a role in making the workplace gender friendly. This includes a workplace free of sexual harassment, as well as encouraging women to take part in decision making, listening to their issues, and addressing these issues. Gender sensitivity is crucial in supporting women to be leaders. As a male, you cannot exactly perceive the issues of women unless you are sensitive to women, you respect them, and you listen to them. For example, males in the workplace are often not concerned about social norms, physical facilities of the office such as washrooms, vehicles, or working times (day, night, morning, evening) – but  these things can seriously affect the performance of professional women.

What do you think about Australia’s International Women’s Day theme, ‘More Powerful Together’?

When women are empowered, society as a whole is empowered. Current power relations between men and women in Nepal, irrespective of whether you are referring to professional women or home-makers, aren’t good. Males tend to dominate society; male supremacy attitudes and worldviews are common. Behaviours and attitudes that reinforce gender inequality in Nepal, across all levels of society, should not be tolerated.

Click below for more stories from Nepal to mark International Women’s Day 2019.

Read more more on how Australia Awards – South West Asia is Celebrating the power of collective action on International Women’s Day