She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
Through Nagarik Awaz, Rita Thapa provides support to thousands of people whose lives have been turned upside down by the fallout of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal.
Rita Thapa – Nepal
She works for Tewa, and for Nagarik Awaz.
For the past 24 years, Rita Thapa (born 1952) has devoted her personal and professional life to founding and supporting institutions working for women’s empowerment and for the development of philanthropy and peace-building in Nepal. Through Tewa, established in 1996, she has worked for grassroots women throughout Nepal. Nagarik Awaz (Citizen’s Voice), set up in 2001, provides support to thousands of people whose lives have been turned upside down by the Maoist insurgency and the government’s overkill retaliation.As the Maoist insurgency in Nepal gained ground, Rita Thapa knew she could not sit on the sidelines and just watch her fellow countrymen and women kill each other. So, in 2001, this intrepid woman decided to found an organization, Nagarik Awaz (Citizen’s Voice), to help all those affected by the conflict, without taking sides.
As the situation in Nepal is deteriorating by the day, it is hard to talk of ‘results’ and ‘improvements’. But, clearly, the intervention of Thapa and her coworkers has had its impact.: A cadre of committed peace workers has been created, and their numbers are growing. Transit homes and temporary shelters have been set up to help the thousands of people internally displaced, injured and traumatized by the armed forces, whether Maoist or government.
Thapa’s work is often focused on women, widows and children, who are the most vulnerable in such conflicts. She and her team have helped to form local communities in affected areas, where both conflict-related and everyday issues are brought into the open and discussed, and strategies evolved to tackle them.
Reporting for Nagarik Awaz’s newsletter in 2003 from insurgency-affected Surkhet district, Thapa wrote: “In faraway Kathmandu, there is big talk about big money. Millions of dollars to fight the war, more millions in development assistance…But here, on Ground Zero, the widows and the orphans, bereaved and now destitute, need immediate relief. They cannot wait. Where are the NGOs, where are the donors, where is the government?”
Thapa’s steadfast refusal to take sides in this conflict places her under attack from all sides – Maoist, police, military, and government. But her ability to see the plight of each actor in this conflict, and her genuinely apolitical perspective enable her to work equally effectively with ordinary people and with the authorities, and be a bridge between warring sides. The role of a consensus-builder and a mediator in situations of armed conflict is always fraught with danger; but Thapa performs it with compassion, integrity, and honor.
She works with little support from her family and friends – for reasons she sometimes finds hard to explain – but that does not stop her from facing life with courage and equanimity. Born into a conservative family, and married, according to custom, at the age of 18, she completed her education after marriage with determination. Widowed in 1988, and left with three children to raise on her own, Thapa decided to become a social activist in a society where widows often must settle for a humble and low-profile existence. Since her family had travelled a great deal, thanks to her father’s military career, Thapa had been exposed to a Nepal outside her own social milieu, and it was this that led her on the route she took.
But her desire to work for social causes led to a rift with her family. She built her career as a social activist by working for Oxfam and Unifem in the early to mid-1990s, providing policy inputs for Oxfam’s country program, and she represented it on the Action for Gender Relation in Asia (AGRA) network. She appraised, monitored, and evaluated projects for compliance with gender sensitive policy guidelines and initiated, directed, and supervised Oxfam’s support to the Bhutanese refugees in Southeast Nepal. At Unifem, she appraised, supervised, monitored, and evaluated the overall Unifem program in Nepal.
Earlier, while working for local cooperatives, she initiated and managed the first independent program to eliminate girl-trafficking in Nepal, formulating position papers on the trafficking of women for discussion among Nepali policymakers. She was involved in nationwide advocacy, and networking on trafficking and HIV/AIDs. She also designed and supervised community development projects in Kathmandu Valley, involving agro-forestry, basic health, and cooperative activities.
For more than a decade, Thapa has also coordinated and managed a weaving center, Dhaka Weaves, employing 35–50 fulltime women weavers and a dozen staff members, and is also running a retail shop. The center is committed to sustaining the traditional craft of dhaka weaving, and to providing economic support to low-income women.
In 1996, Thapa came up with Tewa, which promotes localized philanthropy for self-reliant development in Nepal, particularly with respect to grassroots women, and which has now become a model the world over. It has managed to raise millions of rupees locally to support the efforts of grassroots women, through strategies such as walkathons, events, piggybanks, and so on.
Thapa has helped grassroots women build up their self-confidence, encouraging them to network, and providing them training in cooperation, teamwork, fundraising, and creating peaceful communities. She has travelled to communities and villages in remote areas, on foot when no other transport was available.
Thapa has a Bachelor’s degree in education from Tribhuvan University and a postgraduate diploma from Sussex University in gender and development. Apart from her work with her two NGOs, she has also served on the boards of international organizations such as the Global Fund for Women, Urgent Action Fund/USA, Education and Development/USA, and other groups, which has given her work considerable visibility around the world. (Read this on this 1000 peace women page).