Women in Health, Education, Environment and Local Resources (WHEEL), is an action research project. The project covers five VDCs of three districts. They are Baireni Village Development Committee (VDC) of Dhading district, Bindabasini, Jhauwa and Bahuarwa Bhata VDCs of Parsa district and Dadhikot VDC of Bhaktapur district. The first phase of the project started in 1999 with the financial support of Austrian government through UNFPA, Nepal office. From 1999 to 2001 the project, being research based has tested ways and means to empower women. It also facilitated a sustainable shift from the most common passive top down orientation of development efforts, to more innovative long term action oriented and gender responsive empowerment approach. This approach considered the diversity and complexity of rural women’s daily lives.
Things learned from WHEEL I are related to different aspects of women's life. For example livelihood, reproductive health, public and political participation. This also includes household workload and power relation, access and control over resources and services etc. WHEEL I, a short-term bridging phase, has also helped the project to identify and articulate a clear direction for WHEEL II.
The WHEEL II project that started in January 2003 is an outcome of a social action learning process that brought together different partners – donors, implementing agencies, target beneficiaries as well as other stakeholders – through different review and reflection meetings that generated a collective action platform.
The overall goal of WHEEL II project is to contribute toward increased gender equality. At the same time, it aims to improve women empowerment through participatory development efforts, which comprises: poverty alleviation, women’s access and control over natural resources and their work diversification. This includes , improved health status, increased awareness and knowledge from formal and non- formal settings of learning.
The purpose of WHEEL II project is to contribute in increasing utilization of quality education, reproductive health information and services by women, men and adolescents in the project areas. It also works on increasing women's involvement and control in natural resource management and environmental protection as a group or as an individual.
The project brought about an increased access to quality educational inputs (formal and non-formal) and reproductive health information and services for women, men and adolescents in the project areas. It has also increased capacity of CBOs, NGOs, and local bodies to work as partners in effective delivery of education, health and environmental protection and to address entrenched patriarchal values in the community. In addition to this, women's capacity to participate in planning, implementation and monitoring of environmental protection and natural resource management activities has increased along with their ability to exercise control over such resources in their villages.
Wheel-II has completed its first year in December 2003. Being a participatory action-research based project, the process generated new findings that encouraged both the project and the communities to initiate community based activities. Some of the activities were: regular health camps, environment campaigns, reproductive health advocacy activities, school based gender mainstreaming activities. These projects mobilised people of almost all the age groups, caste and class strata as well as political leaders and government staff.
The project also initiated the Community Learning Centres (CLC), in Bhaktapur and Parsa. Not only did this initiative promote a learning and sharing culture, it also sustained the collective activities evolved through the process. It helped to strengthen community cohesiveness toward positive transformation.
As there are several interest groups and institutions represented in the CLCs, the project could work with many existing local resource groups such as: Water User Committee (WUC), Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs), and/or other Community Based Organizations (CBOs). The project has been imparting orientation on the basis of their track records to build their organisational capacity as its initial intervention activity.
The project also facilitated to form different women groups considering ethnicity, caste, poverty level and access to basic human needs. The project has already conducted training on Action research, Reproductive Health (RH), Gender and development (GAD), Saving and Credit Management and Institutional Development, Youth Leadership Life Skills, Gender and Reproductive Health in different age groups. UNFPA as well as SWC have always been giving formal and informal inputs as source of inspiration in the project implementation.
Considering the output of WHEEL II year one feedback and suggestions from UNFPA and SWC, the following activities are to be taken: strengthening of CLCs, establishment of youth information centres, educational support programmes for poor girls and women, capacity building of local NGOs and CBOs, training to community women leaders and teachers different relevant issues such as governance, reproductive health, income generation, environmental management, mobilisation of people – especially youth – for peace.
Like any other projects, WHEEL II has also its own challenges. And despite the country’s political disturbances, the project activities went on fairly smooth. However, there were several limitations and restrictions in the project sites. For instance, conducting group meetings (especially at night), organising big gathering and rallies, initiating literacy classes etc. These activities are unseen cause of the delayed implementation of the year planned projects results. To cope with this, literacy classes and other group events are implemented during daytime.
WHEEL Project started in 1998 to demonstrate a process oriented participatory approach for long-term sustainable development. However, the target community still perceive development as physical benefit like road, school, water taps and the like. This means communities still expect short cuts or quick results and visible impact. Wheel is not a type of project where impact can be so tangible. To address this concern, working modalities or procedures are imparted to new programme areas through workshops, social mobilisation process, regular meetings in CLC and youth group.
Balancing between the elements of research and action is another challenge on WHEEL II. The community are informed regarding the findings of the research in the previous year. Only then are further actions made based on the research findings. Local youth clubs(LYC), CBOs and local NGOs are collaborating partners of Wheel-II. They support Wheel by providing human and logistic resources in various field activities. However, their financial sustainability concern is an exception that is beyond Wheel's modality. Wheel, therefore, is providing logistic support like: facilitation to prepare local level plan of NGOs/CBOs, organizational capacity building training/workshop to CBOs/NGOs according to their field track records. Consequently, collaborative partners of Wheel are able to get various development funds from donor agencies.
Now WHEEL II is completed and WHEEL III is expected to start in the days to come.