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Our ENGAGE project in Nepal is addressing socio-cultural norms which don’t prioritise girls’ education, raising awareness of the support available for girls with disabilities, and building the skills and capacity of educators through training and mentoring.

The issues ENGAGE is tackling

Students at Shree Nepal National Community Secondary School, Surkhet.

In Nepal, we’re supporting marginalised and out-of-school girls to benefit from a quality education and develop the skills they need to earn a decent living. 

Girls in southern Nepal face unique barriers to accessing quality inclusive education. Girls are not only far more likely to be out of school than their national peers, but they are also 25% more likely to be out of school than boys within the region.

Girls from ethnic and religious minority groups face cultural biases and discrimination that shape expectations about their roles and behaviours. Disability is also a major predictor of poor educational achievement; thousands of girls with disabilities have never been to school in part because their condition has not been evaluated. 

The marginalisation of girls' and girls living with disabilities

  • Socio-cultural norms that place a low priority on girls’ education;   
  • Lack of awareness and support services for girls with disabilities or functional impairments;   
  • Poorly equipped teachers and educational institutions to support the needs of out-of-school girls and girls with disabilities

Unsage spaces at home and school

Gender-based violence is a widespread and deep-rooted fact for many girls in Nepal. The vast majority of incidents go unreported. Regardless of age, violence and harassment prevent girls from attending school. The psychological impacts can result in girls not showing up for class and performing poorly in school. Among the types of violence that girls often face are:

  • Physical abuse in domestic settings, denial of rest, nutritious food, and chhaupadi  (isolation during menstruation)  
  • Psychological violence that leads to girls feeling incapable of making decisions
  • Never-ending household chores and unpaid work
  • Child, early and forced marriage and dowry systems  
  • Economic violence and denial of access to money  
  • Discrimination and bullying

How ENGAGE works

The project has provided wheelchairs and prosthesis to disabled girls so that they can access the classroom.

ENGAGE works to address these issues and improve learning opportunities for thousands of marginalised out-of-school girls, and girls with disabilities in three districts in Nepal. Through the project, 2,525 girls are taught new skills to increase their future employability and raise their self-esteem. The project also teaches and empowers girls to have control over their own sexual and reproductive health.

Many of the barriers to girls’ education in Nepal stem from low levels of engagement from stakeholders in the system. Given the country’s strong and progressive education policies, change is only possible if parents, teachers, school managers, and policy makers know their roles and are inspired to act.

At the heart of the ENGAGE project is the big sister’s mentoring scheme which provides peer support to girls through the power of positive female role models. ‘Big Sisters’ – local women with training in life skills and education – mentor, inspire and motivate their ‘Little Sisters’, encouraging them to go to school, empowering them to speak out in lessons, and ensuring they get the education they need to unlock their potential.

Outside the classroom, Big Sisters act as role models, sharing their own experiences and offering invaluable advice and information, especially around sexual and reproductive health.

My little sister is like my own sister to me. We share everything with each other. Because we have built up the girls' trust, we can talk to each other about all kinds of issues. For example, child marriage. We have agreed not to marry before we are 20.

Najbun, VSO Big Sister Volunteer in Nepal

By boosting the confidence and self-esteem of their mentees, Big Sisters foster younger girls’ sense of independence and self-worth, empowering them to take control, not only of their health and education – but of their future life choices. 

ENGAGE focuses on strengthening stakeholder engagement in inclusive education at household, school and system levels.

Each girl benefits directly from ENGAGE through:

  • Personalised social support for girls and families   
  • Identification and assessment of disabilities of girls  
  • Peer-based mentoring of younger girls by older girls to encourage participation and help girls address barriers.    
  • 9-month “bridge classes” to help acclimatise girls to education and accelerate their re-entry into formal education 
  • Coordination with local government authorities and support services  
  • Training, coaching and mentoring hands-on practical experience in inclusive, student-centred pedagogy and practice for 100 educators and 270 student teachers.  
  • Optional livelihood training (small scale business) for girls. 

The project builds on VSO’s pioneering Sisters for Sisters peer mentoring project, which supported nearly 10,000 girls from marginalised communities to succeed in school.

For more information on VSO's inclusive education work >>