Hope at lastSep 19, 2017
For Rupandehi’s Prem Kumari, being helped by UNDP’s Socio-Legal Aid Center through her legal problems was not just a reminder of the need to exercise her rights, but also of the many other women who were suffering from the difficulty of navigating a complex court system
“Her story has been an inspiration to us,” says Sunita Kohar of her employer, Prem Kumari. “She’s proof of the kind of injustices that women suffer, but also of the possibility of fighting these injustices.”
Sunita is among the two women 29-year-old Prem Kumari has hired to work alongside her at the New Standard Modern Tailors shop in Rupandehi district. And while she might seem the very picture of successful entrepreneurship today, getting to this point was all but easy.
Born in Swathi in the district, Prem Kumari had gotten married some nine years ago. When her husband went overseas to work, she decided that rather than stay home, she would find a job too—the extra income would be welcome, after all. And in the course of looking for employment, Prem Kumari happened upon a tailoring shop and began working there.
Things were soon to get complicated, however. Prem Kumari and the man who had hired her at the shop began to get close and fell in love. They decided to get married, but even though she had officially separated from her first husband, she discovered that her new spouse was still married to another woman.
The fact that she was now a second wife to the man, as well as of a different religious background, prompted her new in-laws to outrage. They treated her very poorly, as did others in the community, and soon, even her husband began neglecting her—particularly after she gave birth to their son. He eventually grew violent as well, abusing her physically and verbally, and refused to give her or their boy any legal rights to property.
“I didn’t know who to turn to, there didn’t seem any way out,” Prem Kumari says. Desperate, she decided to reach out to the District Office of Women and Children for help on her situation. It was there that she was directed to the Socio-Legal Aid Centre (S-LAC) run by UNDP’s Strengthening the Rule of Law and Human Rights Protection System in Nepal (RoLHR) Programme.
“I finally found hope,” Prem Kumari recalls. “Once I’d told them my story, the staff at the S-LAC helped me to prepare the application and ready the necessary fees to file the case in court. The litigation process started after that, and a conciliation was facilitated.”
Prem Kumari says that getting in touch with the S-LAC not only reminded her of the need to be aware of and exercise her rights, but also gave her a sense of just how many other women were out there, going through similar dilemmas, and whose problems are compounded because of the difficulty in navigating the court system. “I realized how essential a function these S-LACs were serving for troubled women like me,” she says.
Though it came with a seven or eight-month wait, in time, the court ruled that Prem Kumari’s husband would have to provide her a certain portion of his property, which came to include two sewing machines, accessories and Rs. 900,000 in cash. An agreement was also struck that her husband would furnish an additional Rs. 5,000 every month to pay for their son’s schooling.
“I would have been languishing in that sorry state—financially and mentally—if I hadn’t been pointed towards the S-LAC and received their support and guidance,” Prem Kumari says. “It’s allowed me to firmly close the page on that chapter in my life and move on to better things, using my skills to earn a livelihood and raise my son the way he deserves.”
With funding from the Embassies of Denmark, Norway and Finland, UNDP’s RoLHR has extended socio-legal aid services through S-LACs in 10 districts across Nepal