As a young girl growing up in a family of three daughters, Soni Joshi was raised without any inkling of the gender disparity that was an inherent part of Nepalese tradition and culture. She was raised by parents who believed in the importance of educating their daughters and making them self dependent. It was only in the later years of her teens as she set out into the world that real life incidents and scenarios of discrimination against women turned her into an advocate for women’s rights and advancement.
These incidences made her aware of the situations that her parents must have faced with only three daughters in the patriarchal stronghold of society. Their belief in their daughters is what set the foundation for her foray into the world of gender disparity.
The past two decades have seen her active involvement in the field of Women and Children’s Development with her association with a number of social development organizations all focused on issues of women and children‘s advancement.
Soni Joshi is the Past President of ASMAN (Association of St. Mary’s Alumnae) in Nepal. ASMAN is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization devoted to the cause of aiding and supporting under-privileged Nepalese women and children. The organization’s work and commitment encompasses support in the areas of Education, Health, Environment, Cultural Awareness and Development.
As the first Nepali woman to become President of AWON (Active Women of Nepal) formerly known as the American Women of Nepal she created a benchmark in the history of the organization. She together with a group of like minded individuals introduced a variety of changes that were instrumental in bringing the local inhabitants and the expatriate group in close communication.
In her myriad of roles with her intense involvement with UNWO (United Nation’s Women’s Organization) of Nepal she brought about many changes in the workings of the organization. As the Chair of the Social Welfare Committee she worked actively to bring the plight of the local women and children to the forefront. Both AWON and UNWO are reputed organizations in society with a focus on working for the betterment of the women and children of Nepal.
She is also amongst the founder members of the Nepal chapter of ZONTA, an organization dedicated to advancing the status of women. She has served as the Secretary of the organization and the Chair of the Violence Against Women Committee ,she has been leading the United Nations Committee till date and currently is also serving as the District 25 Co-Chair for the Advocacy Committee 2018 to 2020 which includes Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Nepal .
In her role as a Board Director of reputed educational institutions (both primary levels to higher level education) she is amongst a group working to bring about a change to the conventional method of teaching in the country. She is a strong advocate for the education of the girl child.
She has served as the President of CHETANA (Center for Health, Education, Training and National Advocacy) which has as its special focus the plight of the differently abled women and girl child. With a personal family incidence and experience of a differently abled person, she is actively involved with organizations working for the betterment of these differently abled. She is on the Advisory Board of SUNGAVA an organization for Girl’s with Down’s syndrome.
She has been awarded with the “Women Leadership Achievement Award by the World Women Leadership Congress Awards in 2015 and the Women Super Achiever Award in 2017.
To me women’s empowerment means to be a woman who is capable of standing up for herself, who believes in her convictions and can face challenges and society stoically with the belief in herself and her capabilities.
My parents have been my greatest source of motivation. Growing up in a patriarchal, tradition bound society they never placed any restrictions on their three daughters and we were brought up believing we were capable of doing and achieving anything in life. My father was always very sensitive to the plight of women and the girl child and used to constantly encourage me to delve further into the issue and identify and tackle aspects that were not being given due attention.
Working in this field for the past two decades has been very challenging and traumatic. Every day brings with it a new learning and I have come to realize that whilst the scale and severity of women’s issues differ – the core problem is universal. Incidences of domestic violence, incest, rape, acid attacks, child marriage, trafficking, dowry, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, gender disparity – the list is endless.
AND it is that smile, that teary eye of unspoken relief and joy, that unspoken word or gesture of happiness which keeps me motivated to strive on doing what I can.
One mantra which is very close to my heart and which provides me the impetus to keep on battling the pitfalls is “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” by Martin Luther King Jr.
I believe that the characteristics of an empowered person encompass;
Belief in one’s self
Willingness to learn
Ability to accept criticism
Walking the unconventional path
Courage to think out of the Box
Share their experiences and speak of their struggles and victories
Be Role Models
Stress on culture of ethics, sincerity, dedication and perseverance
Emphasise on importance of delegation of authority
Encourage Team work
Emphasis on importance of effective communication and networking
My earnest advice would be to believe in one’s self, in one’s strength and capabilities and to persevere however adverse the situation is. To seek guidance from and to communicate with a person one trusts .This is where mentorship and role models play an important and integral part one also needs to realize that many challenges will be faced and this can only be overcome with the courage within oneself to persevere.
It often haunts me that as an educated woman I faced situations where my capability and integrity were questioned. But I persevered as I strongly believe that if we aim to bring some change into the world then we need to be that change.