Bhawana Bhatta became a mother at the tender age of 14 after her family married her off when she was in grade 8. Although the minimum age of marriage under Nepali law is 20 years of age, UNICEF estimates that one in 10 girls are married before the age of 15. When girls like Bhawana are forced to marry, they often drop out of school, and many will never again set foot in a classroom.
Fortunately, this was not the case for Bhawana.
Two years ago, Bhawana enrolled in training courses offered at the local Community Learning Center (CLC) in Baitadi. Encouraged by her facilitators, and realising the importance and the power of lifelong learning, Bhawana decided to go back to school. Today, she is proud to have overcome the constraints of her past and aspires to become a lawyer fighting for women’s rights and equality.
UNESCO believes in the power of education to achieve gender equality and to empower adolescent girls and young women. Through targetted interventions supported by the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education, Nepalese girls and women like Bhawana have access to formal and non-formal education programmes that build knowledge and skills on sexual and reproductive health, income generation, and how to stand up for their rights in their communities and to elevate their status in society.
UNESCO has implemented eight series of three-day trainings, empowering 236 young women with understanding and life-skills related to menstruation, family planning, safe motherhood, immunization, and nutrition. An independent evaluation of the project reveals how these initiatives are changing lives. “Initially, I was ignorant about my health; but through the training, I learned about various things impacting a healthy life. This knowledge not only improved my and my family’s behaviours, but also opened our minds to discuss sexual problems and not to hide them. I want to continue my education and I and my husband, together, have decided not to have another child”, says Bhawana.
The UNESCO Office in Kathmandu will continue to engage in nationwide efforts to improve the relevancy and quality of education for adolescent girls and young women through both formal and non-formal education and in partnership with CLCs and other local stakeholders.