Janaki Devi Joshi became a widow at the age of 21 when her daughter was just 6 months old. After her husband's death her in-laws family started to give her even more troubles. Her father in law sold the house and didn't gave her any compensation. She joined WHR group and managed to find a deal with the brother in-law to obtain some compensation.

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Mahìla


A light in the darkness for widows in Nepal


The tumultuous recent history of Nepal stripped many men out of their families and left thousands of women alone. The 10 years of civil war claimed the life of 19.000 people, the 2015 earthquake killed over 9.000 people and destroyed half a million houses in a country of 29 million. Widowhood is a dreadful experience especially in the rural and remote areas of the country, where the unwritten rules of tradition still prevail over the
increasingly egalitarian legislations of the young Republic. In Nepal, marriages are arranged by families and women move to their husband’s house and often interrupt their education and professional trainings. When
their husbands dies, they are often blamed to be responsible for their deaths by their in-laws families, and by the community. In several cases, they are forced out of the houses, frequently falling pray to verbal and sexual violence. When Lily Thapa became a widow herself, she realised how hard the conditions of the widows were
on her country and founded an organisation, Women for Human Rights, in order to help them. Her work became a light in the darkness for widows in Nepal. The organisation brings together over 100.000 Nepalese women, gathering along the 1.5000 groups, scattered over the 73 districts of the national territories. Women groups bring forward programs of psychological support, empowerment through trainings and legal support on property issues. Microcredit projects are designed to help women kickstart entrepreneur activities, benefiting their families as well as their communities. The tireless work of these women have achieved the goal of bringing hope to these widows, and as Lily Thapa says ‘to turn their shame into pride’.

Sanu Thapa Magar Rai, 41 years old. Sanu’s husband killed himself leaving her alone with 3 children. Their relationship was difficult: they were often fighting because he was drinking too much, neglecting her and her children, leaving them in economic hardship.  She didn't got any support from anyone when she became a widow and she lives in a dusty informal settlement in Basinghat, where at least she has no rent to pay.

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Sanu Thapa Magar Rai, 41 years old, walking with one of her son in the informal settlement of Basinghat

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Sunita Thapa, 45 years old.

Her husband was violent and beat her repeatedly before he disappeared, leaving her alone with 2 sons and 2 daughters.


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Sumitra Tudu, 33 years old.

Sumitra was offered to work in Kuwait and was instead trafficked to India for sex-related work.

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Danescoori Devi Bohora, 40 years old, wearing the white robes that widows in Hindu culture are supposed to wear the 1st year after losing the husband.

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Lily Thapa is fighting the stigma and the discrimination towards Nepali’s widows, accused of being responsible for their husband’s death.

She is the founder ofWomen for Human Rights (WHR) and the deepest inspiration for widows in Nepal.

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Lily Thapa was 29 when she lost her husband during the Gulf war.He was serving as an army doctor for a UN peace mission and left her with 3 children, who are now 34,33 and 29 years old.

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Those days were a struggle for her and after attempting suicide for three times, she started meeting other widows, and understanding their conditions in Nepal’s society. Being privileged compared to most of them, because of being born in a middle/high-class supportive family in Katmandu, she decided to travel Nepal from village to village, to inspire women in getting together and fight back the stigma and discrimination they suffer, through new cultural practices.

‘Life teach us many things. The situation I found myself taught me a lot. I have often be protected by my family, but my trauma and my sorrow made me much stronger’ she says. It was in 1994 when Lily founded WHR which brings together over 100.000 Nepalese women, in 2.000 groups, scattered over the 73 district of the national territories. 'It was very hard, especially because in 1995 the civil war started, which ravaged the country for a decade. It’s not in the city that we must work, but in the remotest villages, where the traditional culture is stronger and women end up discriminated the most. I don’t do much, I mainly give them moral support. I want to let these women know that someone is behind them and they can count on us. We want to transform their shame into pride, which is basically revolutionary. We want to give women respect and dignity. We are changing people mindset, customs, cultural practices. We even managed to bring together Maoist’s widows with the wives of their enemies, can you imagine? But it is so hard to change a way of thinking so much connected with religion.’ Lily was able to push for the change of a Nepalese law that did not allow women below 35 years old to inherit properties. Now they are allowed. Lily worked on the creation of 6 different laws to improve widow’s lives in Nepal.  ‘We have a long road ahead’ she says ‘but we are ready to sacrifice ourselves for change’.

During a small discussion group of widows under-25 under the supervision of Lily Thapa, a girl is showing an irritation under her lips. Young widows are the most fragile ones and in Nepal, they are 60% of the widows.

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Lily Thapa and a local member of WHR's group visiting a woman who recently became a widow and is experiencing the hardest time. Lack of education is directly proportionate to single women’s financial independence, which emphasises in their law status and vulnerability.

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After the women group in Mahendranagar, Kanchanpur district, a WHR officer is giving little microcredit fund to the women involved.

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Lalmati Rana with one of the women group that she is training in farming, in Kailali distric. Lalmati was able to react after the widowhood and to build a new future to herself, thanks to the support of the women groups. She is now economically independent and trains other women to do the same. 

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Devi Kapadel, 37 years old, got married at the age of 15, without receiving an education and learning any job. She was caring for the family until she got 25. Then her husband died in India and was left alone with 3 daughters. Entering WHR’s groups gave her the chance to take a training in tailoring which allowed her to start an activity.

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Kamala Sharma


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Kamala Sharma got married at the age of 14 but lost her husband one year later.

Kamala directed all her energies into agriculture and now she grows 50 quintals of tomatoes in 60 square metres of land.

At the beginning she used to bike 12km to sell her products in the nearest bazar but during the conflict it was very hard to go and sell her products.With the time and thanks to some training she received from the government she even won a national award for her endeavour in agriculture, joined the Congress party and become chairperson of the local section.

She has built her house with her own hands. Her success inspired other women to follow a path similar to her. Kamala decided to start an organisation for single women to help them come out of the shadows.

Thanks WHR activities, 75 single women over Nepal got the victory in various position on Local election held in Nepal after 20 years.

Her story has inspired other women that she trained in orden to allow them to be independent thanks agriculture.

Workers on the farm of Kamala Sharma

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Kumari B.K. with her daughter Swstika and the son Sobas in front of their house in Kaski, next to the Bijayapur river. Since she became a widow 9 years ago, when her husband was taken by the river during a flood,

Kumari is struggling for the education of her children.


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Dil Kamaru Adhikari, 47 years old. She lost her husband due toa bike accident. He was a politician at the National Democratic Party. Her family supported her but many people in society discriminated her as a widow. She own now a shop in Nagdara, Kaski region. She is doing her best to have her kids studying at school.

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A child in one house in the informal settlement of Basingath, where many widows live in Kathmandu

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Maiya Ale Magar, 54 years old. Her husband was often drunk and her life got better when he died 7 years ago.

She was being beaten often by her husband during the marriage and currently she is still suffering from the violent behaviours of her son. She achieved economic independence working informally in the real estate business, but she gains a little and she is lives in the informal settlement of Basinghat.

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Laxmi Nakasmi, 60 years old. Dharmastali, Kathmandu valley. Life for Laxmi turned very hard 5 years ago, when her husband passed away.Dealing with the consequences of the loss was very difficult for her, especially when in 2015 the 7.8 magnitude that hit Nepal completely destroyed her house and killed 17 people in her village.

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After the earthquake, Laxmi started living in a tent, over the debris of her collapsed house.However, snakes were coming at night, she was scared and couldn’t sleep. Thanks to WHR, she received a small loan and with the time she built a new shelter, on the land where she was previously growing crops, losing as a consequence her most important source of income. At the moment she is barely surviving.

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Tami Maja Maharjan, 55 years old, and other women during shoe-making training designed by to help local widows to acquire their own economics means and acquire independence, in the Newari village of Sunakoti, Kathmandu valley.

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Ram Kumari, 66 years old, Kaski district, Nepal.

Ram is disable since 6 years and her son is born with disabilies as well. She has no income, unless for some revenues made by her daughter cookings'. Ram's husband died ill of jaundice. Women for Freedom provided her with a wheelchair.

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Tumari Kumari Mishra never married because of problem in the arm and manages a difficult life depending on others and not being able to work. She lives in Banshighat, an informal settlement in Katmandu

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Phool Maya Maharjhan, 70 years old, was already a widow when she got trapped under the debris during the earthquake in Dharmastali.

She lost her house and all of her documents.Since then she had to manage to support her 3 sons and 2 daughters alone, living in extreme poverty.

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Hari Chaudari, 55 years old. Hari lost her husband 11 years ago because of jaundice disease. She grew up 3 daughter and one son. She has been working with kids before and WHR is now helping her with agriculture and farming.

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Hari Chaudari, 55 years old, received a pig from WHR that allows her to make a small income and her economic conditions are slightly improving.

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Sarmila Adhikazi. Her husband died 4 years ago, hanging himself in one of the rooms of their house. When they were married, they fought several times. Once her husband hit her on the face with a beer bottle, damaging her right eye. She is still living in the in-laws family even though she was blamed for the death of her husband, by the relatives.  She works in a small meat shop, but the money are little and some days she has nothing to eat. She has no idea what the future will bring her.

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Taj Maya Nakasmi, 70 years old. She has cancer and lives in a small shelter since the earthquake destroyed her house in Dharmastalia. She is living the last years of her life in a condition of extreme poverty.

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Mina Tudu, 28.

When she lost her husband 5 years ago for a skin disease she was left alone with one son and 2 daughters.She decided to go to work in Kuwait, but was instead trafficked by an agent into India.She was rescued by an NGO in India and now returned to her village Deonia, in Jhapa, Nepal.

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The mother in-law and daughter of Chandra Hasda, a woman who was trafficked into India and then disappeared.Every year, around 12.000 young Nepalese women are illegally takenacross the long and mostly uncontrolledborder between Nepal and India. They disappearinside the labyrinth of the Indian brothels, losingall hope to reunite with their families.

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Sabita Maharjan, 30 years old. Her husband died in a car accident in 2012 when their daughter was only 1,5 years old.Becoming a widow, she experienced severe exclusion from the community, but things changed when she joined the single women group. She found the courage to wear red clothes, usually wore by married women, again.She is now very active in helping other women in the village of Sunakoti and recently started a bachelor in rural agriculture.

She is hoping to acquire the means togrant her daughter an education.

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