KATHMANDU, Nepal (GPI)--
Laxmi Shrestha, 35, says that, unlike other children, she and her sister, Sita, always wanted to go to school when they were younger. But they never had the chance.
Every day, their brothers went to the school, a 20-minute walk from their house. And every day, she and her sister stayed home to help their mother with the chores, collecting fodder for the cattle and wood for fuel.
“My mother tried to send me to school, but my father didn’t listen to her at all,” Shrestha says.
Instead, she says that her father emphasized that they learn how to perform household chores so they could run their homes when they got older.
Shrestha, from Orang, a village in Dolakha district, says she learned how to do household chores at an early age – but never how to read or write. She got married at 18 to her husband, Roshan Bindukar, who lived in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, about 100 kilometers east of her village.
Moving out of her family’s home, she says that her father told her to never forget them and to stay in touch. Once in her husband’s home in Kathmandu, Shrestha started missing her family. But she couldn’t contact them because letters were the only means of communication at the time, and she didn’t know how to write.
When she asked her sister-in-law to help her, she humiliated Shrestha for being illiterate. She cries at the memory, wiping her tears with the fringe of her shawl.
“I cried the whole night,” she says. “I was very angry with my parents for not sending me to school.”
Illiterate women in Nepal say they struggle with basic daily tasks ranging from communication to directions. Representatives from nongovernmental organizations promoting education in Nepal cite marital customs, patriarchal gender roles and poverty for the lower prioritization of educating daughters than sons. Schools principals add illiteracy of parents and poor sanitation facilities to the reasons why girls don’t attend or stay in school. The government and nongovernmental organizations promote formal education for girls, and learning centers offer informal education for women.
About 57 percent of Nepali women above age 15 were illiterate as of 2009, according to a Central Bureau of Statistics report. Illiteracy among men in the same age bracket was about half at 29 percent.
Geeta Majhi, 26, of Lalbandi village in Sarlahi district is illiterate. Born and raised in the flatlands of the eastern plains, Majhi grew up with one older brother and four younger sisters.
Her brother used to go to the nearby school. Her parents also sent her to the school with her brother when she was 5 but withdrew her after a year.
Majhi says her parents told her that education made girls indulgent and permissive and was unnecessary for daughters, who should be married off to their husbands’ homes. Instead of attending school, they asked Majhi to look after the household chores and her little sisters.
Majhi says she could never voice her desire to study. Instead, she cried about her misfortune for being born female.
Now, Majhi and her husband work as low-wage construction workers in Kathmandu. She also works part time doing laundry in nearby houses.