Closing the Leadership Gap: Women LEAD Nepal

Women LEAD is the first and only leadership development organization for adolescent girls in Nepal.In this article, Megan Foo, Editorial Assistant and Regular Contributor of The NextWomen, discusses problems that stem from the leadership gap in developing countries, and spotlights the untiring efforts of Women LEAD - a nonprofit organization that empowers adolescent girls to be leaders - to close this gap in Nepal.

Why aren't there more women leaders? I find this question a worrying yet highly relevant one, one that must be addressed in political agendas and business strategies alike.

Across the world and in every industry, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions.

For every Janet Yellen or Christine Lagarde, there are thousands of women who do not rise to the upper echelons of the corporate ladder.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2011, women hold fewer than 20% of all decision-making national positions, a figure that demonstrates the widespread nature of gender inequalities in leadership.

Nowhere are the negative impacts of the leadership gap felt more, than in developing countries, where being poor and female is a formula for exclusion from jobs and leadership roles. In the developing world, few women find economic footing, and even fewer break the glass ceiling. Vital policies targeting issues that directly affect women’s lives, such as early marriage, female genital mutilation, or maternal care, are often developed and executed without the input from women.

When rampant inequalities in leadership prevail, worst-case realities devoid of efficiency or human rights concerns ensue. The leadership gap not only costs developing countries exorbitant amounts in much-needed economic growth each year, it also keeps women and girls at a disadvantaged status. Women who are shut out of leadership positions fall or remain at the bottom of the economic pyramid, unable to provide for themselves or their families, and inevitably live under the constant threat of physical or sexual violence.

In 2013, I began volunteering with Women LEAD, the first and only leadership development organization for adolescent girls in Nepal, because I was frustrated by these persistent inequalities, and the economic and social ills they perpetuate. If there is one truth Women LEAD has opened my eyes to, it’s this: Gender imbalances in leadership do not have to exist and endure – they can be uprooted by investing in a generation of high-potential women leaders who work alongside men to ignite positive change at the community and national levels.

Women LEAD recognizes the need for female leaders.

Every year, Women LEAD’s Leadership Institute resourcefully empowers 30 high-potential adolescent girls with the tools, education and leadership skills needed to thrive as change-makers in their schools, community and nation. These 30 girls then go on to train an additional 250 girls and boys using the knowledge and resources Women LEAD has imparted to them.

Skill-building workshops, service trips, and hands-on experiential learning from Nepali female leaders are also part and parcel of Women LEAD’s mission to close the leadership gap. I’ve been amazed to witness Women LEAD offering young girls valuable opportunities that have eluded their ancestors - namely the confidence needed to self-identify as a leader, the professional working skills of public speaking, CV writing and interviewing, and guidance through academic and career goals.

Unlike their mothers and grandmothers, the majority of Women LEAD’s graduates (87%) are pursuing tertiary study. Women LEAD’s girls acquire comprehensive knowledge of Nepal’s economic and socio-political struggles, and have been able to use the education and leadership training Women LEAD has given them to raise awareness and develop sustainable solutions to these problems.

For example, Aakriti, one of Women LEAD’s leaders, wrote a riveting op-ed about civic engagement in Nepal, and the importance of realizing that “every one of us is responsible for the nothing that is happening in our country”. Saniya and Neha, two leaders, had an interview about financial independence among youth published in República, a national daily newspaper in Kathmandu, Nepal. Another two leaders, Sushmita and Akshyeta, held an interaction program at People's Dental College focused on the negatives of street harassment and ways to end street harassment in Nepal.

Women LEAD transforms not only the girls it supports and works with, but also the wider Nepali community.

By facilitating discussions on sensitive issues like community-specific gender inequalities and stereotypes, Women LEAD achieves a two-fold effect of fostering an unprecedented atmosphere of respect and nurturing healthy relationships.

Through its peer support group comprised of young women leaders in Nepal, Women LEAD emphasizes solidarity and celebrates the power of networks among women – a breath of fresh air in Nepal’s deeply patriarchal social climate. Arming youth activists with the skills, resources, and morale needed to turn the tides against social problems, Women LEAD moves its girls and LEADers one step closer to ending bullying, peer-pressure and discrimination in Nepal.

The positives of encouraging women’s leadership are limitless, and Women LEAD’s phenomenal work beautifully testifies to this. I can only imagine how optimistic the future would be if every community in the world expedited access to women’s leadership development – with the cessation of gender-based discrimination and the dawning of generations of fully empowered women, robust economies, and equitable societies being natural dividends of this wise investment. I hope that one day in the near future, women will represent exactly 50% of leaders across the world and in every industry, and that communities, societies and the wider world will reap the far-reaching impacts of women’s leadership Women LEAD has saliently demonstrated.

Megan Foo is a Year 12 student at Chinese International School in Hong Kong. She has written often about issues in gender and education on online platforms like Girls’ Globe and VolunTEEN Nation. As a Contributor for The Next Women, she hopes to raise awareness of women’s entrepreneurial initiatives and economic empowerment. Having been involved with many philanthropic causes including raising funds for family violence intervention training for adolescent girls in Guatemala, Megan is the Chief Content Officer of Givology, an online giving marketplace that leverages dollar donations to grassroots education projects in the developing world through a crowdfunding philanthropy business model. 

Megan is also the President of the Hong Kong Chapter of Women LEAD, a peer-led, creativity-focused nonprofit that provides women’s leadership development training and advocacy in Nepal. When not volunteering, Megan enjoys running cross country, travelling, and reading about issues in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Her favorite subjects are chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

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