Kathmandu: We typically see women manage household waste inside the home, although women have started to participate in public waste collection and disposal too.
Women often work as recycling collectors, either individually or alongside male family members. However, women’s participation in public waste management is gradually increasing. There are few waste businesses that are women-owned. One of them is Avni Ventures, where 50 percent of the employees are women. They are employed to sort, clean, separate and sift through recyclable material through various stages of processing. These women are taking part in addressing climate change issues.
Behind all this is a woman who manages not only the waste management process, but all the employees. Her name is Shilshila Acharya.
“Women are already on the front lines of many climate change issues,” says Shilshila, the founder and director of Avni Ventures.
For the last 10 years, Shilshila has made a career in mitigating the causes of climate change. She started her career as an activist, participating in demonstrations against climate change. Before long, however, she decided that whatever she did had to be about the climate and improving the environment. Her organization, Avni Ventures, focuses on climate education awareness among young people, women, and politicians through campaigns and training.
Shilshila sees the evidence of misogyny everywhere in society and draws a parallel with how society treats the environment. She believes the way men dominate women is exactly how humans dominate nature. For her, environmental and social issues are deeply interlinked.
“We must view climate issues through the lens of social perspectives,” she adds.
The solution to climate change and to gender discrimination is one and the same. “Understanding the role of women and nature is important,” she asserts.
To achieve that goal, she thinks several strategies must be employed, including media advocacy, policy guidance, day-to-day activism and entrepreneurship. Moreover, in order to successfully recycle and manage waste in Nepal, the meaningful participation of women is a must in every aspect of processing waste, from top to bottom.
“Any resource, whether people, natural resources, or property, is something people want to control and make unnecessary decisions about. That’s how the climate is degrading our planet every day,” she opines.
Waste management is one of the climate change issues she has been addressing through Avni Ventures for the last seven years. “Men say women can’t be decision-makers because it is too difficult a task for them. How could women ever make decisions about the environment?” says Shilshila.
Of course, these gender-biased attitudes clash harshly with reality. Women have traditionally been involved in the waste management sector—usually for free at home.
For Shilshila, her work as a climate defender is an opportunity for independence and to give back. She established Avni Ventures in 2019. “Today I can buy and sell used recyclable items independently,” says Acharya. “I am proud that I contribute equally to decision making as well as being a part of the solution, not only in gender equality but for the environment as well.”
At Avni, Purnima Sherpa, a deaf-mute woman, is also proud of the impact she is having. “She works better and harder than the men,” Shilshila explains.
Similarly, Sushila Kathyat Giri from Jumla also works as a waste entrepreneur at Avni. She runs the Harit Nagar Abhiyan waste management program as CEO at Avni Ventures. Avni has supported a total of 27 waste entrepreneurs. Sushila did not know much about waste management, but she learned the skills she needed at Avni and is now successfully managing her own program.
She heads an association of 14 women that advocate for better waste management in their community. Dozens of women in the association make and sell products from collected plastic waste. Others have recently been trained in making compost from organic waste.
Shilshila believes the way men dominate women is exactly how humans dominate nature. The solution to climate change and to gender discrimination is one and the same, she says.
Although advances have been made in training and enabling women to benefit more fully from the waste management sector, obstacles still remain, says Shilshila.
Increasingly, the private formal sector is seen as a key participant in the full range of urban waste management activities, including the collection, transportation, treatment, processing, separation, recycling, composting, and disposal of waste. Neighborhood associations, communities, and small, informal enterprises are increasingly involving themselves in the management of household and business wastes—often with the encouragement of NGOs and development support organizations with the explicit aim of creating livelihoods and maintaining a clean and healthy living environment.
The government is not helping the private sector as much as it could, says Shilshila. One of the biggest problems is the lack of women leadership in politics. Because all the decision-makers are male, they don’t understand why they need more female waste managers to address climate change, Shilshila points out.
Nepal has low participation by women, especially in the waste management sector. Men account for 76 percent of workers in waste collection, while women represent only 24 percent of formal waste collectors. Furthermore, men earn more as recycling collectors at dumps because they are more likely to work at night, when most of the waste material arrives. Men dominate in the more lucrative areas not only of the informal waste economy, such as dealers and owners of recycling businesses, but also in the formal waste economy, such as company owners and managers. Only a handful of women are engaged in waste management as entrepreneurs or working as climate defenders and contributing to improving the climate for a better future.
“We need to bring more women into decision-making positions and create climate-friendly environments as well as combat gender inequality in this sector,” Shilshila says.
In Nepal, an increasing number of women are being employed in an organized manner in an attempt to provide the benefits of formal employment to women. The level of participation varies in the waste sector but the meaningful participation of women in decision-making in Nepal is gradually growing.
This story was supported by the Road to COP26 campaign implemented by the British Council and funded by UKAID.